Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"...and please bless the hands that prepared it"

If you've ever been around Mormons much and heard them pray at meals, you have probably heard the stock phrase thrown in after blessing the food: "and bless the hands that prepared it." I don't like this saying. Maybe the first person who thought it up was being sincere and hit upon a kind of poetic way of asking a blessing on whoever made the food for them, but it has since lost all meaning. So I wrote the following in the spirit of The Onion, or better yet, The Sugar Beet.

Woman credits healthy hands to prayers, battles illnesses in rest of body

Local resident LeAnne Baker is noted for her exceptionally healthy and hard-working hands. Neighbors and members of her local church alike claim that her hands can do more than three times the work of the average housewife, from cooking and baking to mending clothes. Far from taking credit for her unusually fit hands, she attributes her strong, healthy hands to constant blessings invoked by family members and loved ones. "Not a pre-meal blessing passes," says LeAnne, "that my dear husband or one of my lovely children doesn't thoughtfully ask our Heavenly Father to bless both the meal as well as the hands that prepared it." LeAnne adds that the hands that prepare her family's meals are, more often than not, her own.
Her hardy hands are even more remarkable given that almost every other joint in her body is severely afflicted by crippling arthritis. She states that "just waking up in the morning and getting out of bed is a painful ordeal." Chronic neck and back pain have plagued the relatively young 37 year old woman for the last 10 years, and recently the rest of her body has followed suit. "My knees can barely bend without searing pain shooting through my legs, and my hips have almost stopped working, but I am grateful every day for my fully functional hands," continued Mrs. Baker. She sees no other explanation for this unusal circumstance than the constant prayers she witnesses every day at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. "I have faith that God is truly answering my family's prayers. I'm living proof that prayer works!" LeAnne exclaims.
Brian Baker, LeAnne's 15 year old son, expressed more ambivalence about the situation. "I don't know, I guess my prayers to bless my mom's hands have helped her. I don't really think about it that much." Larry Baker, on the other hand, is confident that divine blessings are involved in the uncanny manual dexterity of his wife of 18 years. "Even though she sits on the couch most of the day, seeing as how it's too excruciating to stand or walk for more than a few minutes at a time, she can knit and quilt up a storm! She is clearly blessed by the Almighty to have the energy in those little hands to sew all of our children's clothes." Making all the children's clothes is indeed quite a feat, considering that the Bakers have 7 children, ranging in age from 4 to 17, who are also fed daily by three homemade meals cooked by LeAnne's hands.
Hope is strong in the family that LeAnne's hands will retain their strength and vigor for years to come. "If all these prayers continue, my hands should be in even better shape twenty years from now" jokes a grimacing LeAnne. Doubts remain, however, about how the rest of her body will stand the test of time. In addition to arthritis, Mrs. Baker was recently diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, an illness that requires the purchase of expensive painkillers as well as twice weekly visits to her local hospital for dialysis treatment. Despite the Baker family's general optimism about LeAnne's chances of a full recovery, her doctor says the prognosis is not good. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he suggested that "perhaps her family should start praying for God to bless the kidneys of those who prepare their food."
The Bakers, however, seem to show no signs of stopping their tradition of calling upon Deity to bless their mother's hands. At a meal this reporter was generously invited to, young MaryAnne Baker, 5, offered a short prayer over the chicken casserole and mashed potatoes that Mrs. Baker had struggled in her wheelchair to prepare for the last two hours. Along with a plea that the food would nourish and strengthen all who partook, MaryAnne dutifully asked God to "please bless the hands that prepared it."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Coming around to musicals (maybe)

I've never considered myself a fan of musicals. Even though my dad and sister are HUGE fans, I would rather pull my own fingernails out with rusty pliers than sit through Oklahoma! (don't forget the exclamation point), The Music Man, or My Fair Lady. There were a few songs that I enjoyed--I love Old Man River, especially as used in Joe Vs. the Volcano--but most of the "classical musicals" are not at all my thing. Exceptions are generally ones that I can watch, but don't really go out of my way to, e.g., West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and The Wizard of Oz, once I watched it synced with Dark Side of the Moon--an experience I highly recommend, pun intended.

But the point is, I've seen some musicals recently that have started to change my mind. Mary Poppins I enjoyed very much (yes, I saw it when I was little, but didn't remember much of it until I saw it three years ago). Fiddler on the Roof was fabulous, I loved it. A girl at BYU winter semester recommended Rent to me, and I watched it over the summer, and despite a few extremely corny lines it had a lot of good songs and a strong story. Then last week I saw Hairspray, and it was hilarious and a ton of fun. I mean, anything that has a cross-dressing John Travolta married to Christopher Walken is sure to be great, but the music was good too, all the actors had good performances and the comedy really came from all sides. And although I haven't seen it, I have the soundtrack to Wicked (thanks Diana!) and it's got some really good songs, Popular, Defying Gravity, and Wonderful being some of my favorites.

So I'm wondering if I'm starting to come around to musicals, or if it's just a few bad apples that I had thought defined the musical genre that don't turn out to actually be representative of all films in the category. I mean, Wikipedia lists Gimme Shelter as a musical, so by that definition I guess I do like musicals. Either way, I've heard good things about Singin' in the Rain, so at some point I'm going to have see it.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Carry on?

Am I the only one who thinks that we're singing "carrion, carrion, carrion!" at the end of the hymn "Carry On" (Hymns, no. 255)? I think the answer is yes.

Naturally better?

Some people make the claim that men are naturally smarter, better at leading, and/or more confident than women. Others, and sometimes the same people, claim that women are naturally more sensitive, compassionate, spiritual, and/or charitable than men. I don't agree with any of those claims. I've known plenty of naturally spiritual and compassionate men, and smart, confident women who are born leaders. I've met women who were jerks and I've met men who couldn't lead anything if their life depended on it. I can't really say that one kind has been more common among men than among women or vice versa.
I believe that the perception that men and women are fundamentally different intellectually or in character derives from the ideas of the society that we have grown up in. We are all imperfect, and those imperfections do not discriminate on the basis of gender. Strengths are also evenly distributed among all of God's children without regard for body anatomy.
This is not to say, however, that I don't think there is any difference at all between the sexes (besides the obvious physical disparities). It's not easy to explain, but I believe that emotionally men and women are different. Not that men don't show emotion and women wear it on their sleeves--that I also think is just part of our culture--but rather that some emotions can be categorized as masculine and some as feminine. Motherhood and fatherhood are prime examples. Although clearly related and mutually necessary, I believe that mothers and fathers have different relationships to their children.
This isn't an easy topic to discuss. The degree to which cultural norms shape our views on the subject is debatable, and it can be a touchy subject to some because of moral or religious beliefs. And perhaps most problematic: every human is either a man or woman, but not both; comparing between the genders is by definition biased, and no one can have first-hand experience about being both male and female. So let's just have a good time discussing and arguing and living through whatever differences there may or may not be between us!

update: there's a very good post at bycommonconsent.com about differences in general, and I really liked a few of the comments that touched on gender differences. Check it out.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

What I'm Afraid Of

So the other day I was playing in a company softball game, which is usually a good time. Unfortunately, this game, I sucked. Of course, it's company softball, so most of the people suck. But I normally think of myself as somewhat athletic and able to, say, catch a fly ball instead of dropping it. Three times. At critical moments.
Again, this isn't really a big deal, at all. But for some reason it really got to me. I felt stupid and useless and whatever else. It made me think of what I'm afraid of, and I think one of my biggest fears is failure, especially and particularly public failure. When I screw up in front of people, it stays with me, a lot more than successes. Do you ever have that happen where an embarassing/stupid/boneheaded memory randomly comes into your head in a completely unrelated setting? If you see me suddenly sort of shiver it could be because that's happening to me. It happens a lot. I remember and relive my public errors often. It sucks.
This particular fear is probably one of the reasons I slack off/am lazy: the classic "if I don't have any goals I won't not achieve them" thinking. Not very productive. Reminds me of the Gin Blossoms lyrics: "If you don't expect too much from me you might not be let down" (note: see previous post). I hate answering questions in classes because even though most of the time I know the right answer, those few times when I'm wrong just really embarass me. I know, not rational. I wonder how many fears are rational.
So I don't open up to people, I keep to myself and I'm shy. How to overcome this? Good question. I'll probably fail at figuring it out.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

more than just sound

I've thought about why I like music. I remember back when I was about 10 when I didn't like any music at all. I thought it was all stupid and dumb and whatever. I don't know what made me really get into it, but I know I started with the radio first, stuff like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and No Doubt and Matchbox 20 (this was circa 1995/6). I remember loving the Men in Black theme song by Will Smith, it got lots of airplay. My first two albums were "Yourself or Someone Like You" (a present from my cousin for Christmas, I think) and "Tragic Kingdom" (a birthday present from a friend). Don't remember which came first. But why do I like it so much now? I've got 20 gigs worth of legal music on my computer. How come?
I think one answer is that I'm not very good at expressing feelings, but music does that very well and I can relate to what a song is saying. Also, music is a very social thing for me. I love to hear what other people like, and if I like it then I associate that music with the friend who recommended it to me. I still remember who first introduced me to Elliott Smith and I still think of my cousin when I listen to "Yourself or Someone Like You." Music brings back good memories of people I know or events I've attended. REM's song "Stand" still reminds me of the Youth Conference where the theme was "Stand for Something" (my mom asked me to help pick a song to go along with the theme, for some reason she didn't like "Losing My Religion" quite as much).
Music is beautiful. Whether it's a Beethoven piano sonata or Sublime singing/rapping about gang, life, I find real beauty in these melodies and words. They stay in my head forever. I can't tell you how many times situations or things people say reminds me of a lyric to a song. It reminds me of the scene in "The Shawshank Redemption" where the main character puts on that amazing opera song and later tells his fellow inmates about how they can put him in solitary for as long as they want, but they can't take away the music from his head.
And of course, there's the cathartic effect. I can change my mood to almost anything I want just by picking the appropriate album. I can rebel with Rage, I can commiserate with Jeff Buckley, I can escape with The Velvet Underground, I can funk out with Beck, I can smile listening to SHAKE YOUR PEACE!. I really like that scene in Philadelphia where Tom Hanks listens to that beautiful song to get away from the devastating pain of slowly dying of AIDS.
In short, music really helps me get through life. It's one more reason I love the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It helps me widen my horizons. It helps me put things in perspective. It helps me connect with other people. Music is something I love. I'm not sure if you (or I) now understand any better why, but I do.