Saturday, March 14, 2015

Jimmy and Shakespeare and APT

In which we figure out why someone who used to detest Shakespeare is now crazy about American Players Theatre:

Four years have passed since Gary and I headed into the city to see In Acting Shakespeare.  It seems like just the other day.  The show made a huge impression on me.  (Recent runs of IAS have been nowhere near here.  If it ever comes back to this area, I sure hope we hear about it and can snag some tickets.)

Tonight I watched Ian McKellen's Acting Shakespeare, upon which Jimmy DeVita's show is based. There were fabulous sections that caused thrills to run up and down my spine.  But you know what?  Shhhh -- don't tell anybody I said this: Jimmy's show was even better than Sir Ian's. 

Jimmy's play discussed education.
And fatherhood.
And family.
And hard work.
And art.
And how amazing words can be.
With no pontification.
It was all in a riveting story, full of laughs and even a few tears.

He tells of his youth and his blue-collar jobs.  He tells about dropping out of college.  Twice.  And how he finally ended up on a college fieldtrip where he saw Ian McKellen Acting Shakespeare ... and how he was transfixed by the play.  He too wanted to be able to affect people that way!

But when he finally convinced his dad to come see one of his performances, his father didn't like it.  Why?  Same reason I hated Shakespeare.  (Honestly, it's same reason I still hate a whole lot of presentations of Shakespearean plays.)  Too often, a Shakespeare play makes you feel dumb.  Dumb dumb dumb.  You don't understand the words.  Therefore you don't follow the plot and you don't get the jokes.  And you certainly don't get the play's commentary on power or forgiveness or mercy or grudges.

As Jimmy explained in In Acting Shakespeare, the Bard's plays shouldn't make you feel small.  They should make you feel BIG and grand and full.  If they make you feel small, there's something wrong with how the play is being presented.

Jim DeVita began to learn how to converse with the words of Shakespeare.  In the play he talked about coming to APT.  Jimmy's not the only one at APT who handles the Shakespearean language as if he were conversing.  Most of the actors and actresses do.  Every now and then you run across an intern who doesn't get it yet, and that person sticks out like a sore thumb.  At APT they tell the story in such a way that you follow it all:  the story, the jibes and barbs and witty insults, the silly love triangles, and maybe even The Moral Of The Story.  You don't go to APT so that you can pretend to be part of the [ahem] cultural elite that watches Shakespeare to show off what a Smarty you are.  You go to APT to be entertained and to laugh and maybe even to have your heart-strings tugged, because that's what Shakespeare was all about -- entertaining the masses.  And at APT, they work hard to make sure everybody finds delight in the shows.

Friday, March 13, 2015

If You Measure It ...

"If you measure something, it will get better."

That is the premise behind a new program "offered" by our health insurance.  (And by "offered," I mean that we get to pay $1000 more on our health insurance premiums next year if we don't participate.  No.  Wait.  I take that back.  We don't pay more if we aren't following this new program.  We pay less if we are following the program.  What?  You don't see a difference?  Neither do I.  But I'm guessing there's a legal technicality that matters in how it's phrased.)

Anyway, we are supposed to rack up points.  Enough points earns you the bonus money.  We get points for reading their daily health tips.  We get points each day for self-reporting on three health-habits.  They provided us fancy high-tech pedometers, and we earn points for every 1000 steps it measures.  Extra points if you have your blood-pressure tested at work at least once a month.  And much more.

#1.  Do we suspect that the requirements will increase quarterly or yearly?  Yes, we do. 

#2.  There's some comfort in hearing that loads of other folks are bothered by the tracking of personal health data and are feeling that their privacy is infringed.  And yet, everybody feels that the huge cost difference means we must comply.

#3.  Do we think this sort of thing will become commonplace with nationalized health care?  Yes, we do.  Do we suspect that mere tracking of information will eventually morph into helpful suggestions of ways to improve our health?  And then instructions?  And then demands?

#4.  The computer glitches.  OH, the computer glitches!  Points not being counted here.  Habits not being registered there.   Besides the regular computer glitches, daylight savings time threw another humongous monkey wrench into it all.  This does not instill confidence in the system.

#5.  And finally, the so-called axiom on which the entire program is built: "If you measure something, it will get better."  Sorry.  I don't buy that.

For one thing, we've seen how that works with standardized testing in school.  We test more and more and more.  And education has not improved.

The whole point of improvement-through-measuring is that we will be embarrassed to have "bad numbers" and will then work harder to prove that we exercised or skipped dessert or lost weight.  But what the ceaseless measuring does is cause us to always be looking at ourselves and evaluating ourselves.

This is navel-gazing.
It's also stressful.
Neither of these contributes to health.

Furthermore, I noticed the effect of "if you measure it" when I first chose my health habits to track.  I thought I would choose meditation as one of my options.  It would be easy to [ahem] score well, seeing as how I already have established a habit (albeit a habit that is not as consistent as I'd like).  But you know what?  It really REALLY messed with my mind and my soul and my prayers.  Just being aware that I'd have to report the number of minutes each day?  [Shudder!!]  It was so creepy that I quit after a day and a half, and chose myself a different health habit.

Measuring made it worse.  A lot worse.  Not better.

Andrew found the same thing when he had to log his food for nutrition class.  Logging it changed what he ate.  For the worse, not the better. 

When Maggie first joined Curves, she was initially interested in weighing herself daily.  Not a good plan.  That's how people become overly caught up in the numbers instead of actual health and fitness.  Occasional measurements are fine.  But measuring too often is counterproductive.

In our society, nigh onto everybody was raised in a school system that tracked and measured every little thing.  Look how people LOVE to take those little tests on Facebook that measure personality type, or which famous actress you're like, or how many of these trivia facts do you know, or which state would best suit you.
I think we've developed a mentality that takes for granted "Measuring Makes It Better."  And now we're stuck with it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lock & Lock

When my aunt gave me some "Lock & Lock" I thought it was just another plastic storage container.  What was she so hyped about anyway?

I used them and found out.

The cracker container really works to keep crackers as fresh as when you opened them -- even for months.

If you store wet things (chili or soup) they will not spill, even if stored on their side or upside down.

Raisins and prunes will stay soft and fresh-as-new in the small containers.

These things are fantastic!  For most of my leftover containers, I don't need something this high-quality.  But when I do, these are perfect.  I'm hoping that some of those other brands (with the same kind of seal) work just as well.

[The only warning my aunt gave me was to make sure I never put anything in the microwave with the lid on.  She said it will seal the lid to the container.  If I need the lid while nuking, I turn the lid upside down to avoid any possibility of sealing.  I even take care not to close a container if the food in it is still slightly warm.]  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

instruments of torture

A crucifix.
The cross was not only an instrument of death.
It was also an instrument of torture.

And we choose to hang a depiction of this torture-device on the walls of our homes and our churches.

Non-Christians think it's really weird.  WHY would you do that?  How could you wish to see that?
For example, David Denby wrote a review of Mel Gibson's Passion (in the March 2004 New Yorker) wherein he expresses horror over the torture, the scourging, the crushing, the nails, the blood.

Yes, the crucifix shows an instrument of torture.
But it shows me that it was MY torture that was due to me, and I don't have to endure it because Someone else did.

If you don't believe that, no wonder it seems weird to glory in the cross of Jesus.

"The message of the cross is foolishness 
to those who are perishing, but to us who 
are being saved it is the power of God....  
The things which are despised, God has 
chosen" (1 Cor 1).

The Palm Sunday Gospel

The first time I saw it, I didn't like it.  Chairs lined up in the chancel.  Kids helping with the reading of the Gospel. 

But it didn't take long for me to change my mind.

We're used to the Christmas pageant, where the kids help tell the story of Christmas.  Why not do something similar for Holy Week?

The Gospel reading for Palm Sunday is long -- the entire Passion account according to Matthew, Mark, or Luke.  Here we have a tradition of the story being read in different voices.  Pastor is the narrator.  One boy reads the words of Jesus.  Other boys take the parts of Pilate, Peter, Judas, Caiaphas, etc.  Girls speak the sentences of servants, crowds, or groups.  There are no costumes; the kids simply wear their choir robes (cassock and surplice).  There is no "acting out"; they just sit in their seats, and rise when it's their turn to speak.  There is none of that "Oh, isn't he cute?!" that you so often hear with regard to Sunday School Christmas programs.

Benefit 1:  It's easier to stay tuned in for the reading, without the mind wandering, because the voices change.

Benefit 2:  Easier on Pastor's voice, with a week of many sermons coming up.

Benefit 3:  The kids learn the story well.  No, seriously, I mean, really!!  The story is ingrained in them!  Pastor works with the kids (approx ages 10-14) for a couple of weeks ahead of time so that they speak clearly, no mumbling, no stumbling over words, no improper inflection to mislead.  They practice; they talk about what's being said and why; they discuss doctrine; they understand the importance of presenting God's word to the congregation.  And they learn story and remember it.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Don't Let the Facts Get in the Way

Property tax bill lower?  A lot lower?  That seems to be a common theme around these parts recently.

Why?  One of the reasons is that the state kicked in funding for the tech schools (known in some other states as junior colleges), partially for property-tax relief and partially to help train skilled employees to companies who need them. 

I found myself in a conversation with someone who was thrilled about his lower taxes.  When he discovered the cause for his much-lower property taxes, he responded, "So this is because of GovernorWalker?"  "Well, yes, I guess it is."  From the way he asked the question, I thought he was pleased.

But he wasn't.  He hates Walker.  He disagrees strongly with some of the governor's decisions and leadership.  His response?  "I'll just pretend I didn't hear that."

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Daniel Notes

Nebuchadnezzar's vision in Daniel 2:  The statue of the man had a gold head, silver chest, and so forth, down to feet made of iron and clay.  And it was destroyed by ... a stone. People with various views of millenialism make quite the to-do over the different kingdoms and who they are and what the end will mean.  But the "stone" is Christ.  (See Psalm 118, Matt 21:42, Matt 16:18, and Psalm 91.)  Christ's kingdom is weird: it is not "of this world" (John 18:36).  The king's dream was about "the latter days" which is not a futuristic event but is rather the last twenty centuries (Dan 2:28 and Acts 2:17).

In verse 2:28, Daniel reports that God has revealed the meaning of the dream to Nebuchadnezzar.  He doesn't say that God revealed to him the meaning of the dream ... because Daniel is nothing in himself.  He is only the instrument that God uses to speak to others.

Nebuchadnezzar's faith: It always seemed to me as if Nebuchadnezzar must have believed in the Lord, but I could never point to anything definitive.  But after listening to the class discussion recently, I am more convinced.  In chapter 3, Neb realizes that the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego saved them.  So he declares, "Hey, everybody!  Worship that God, or I'll have you chopped to pieces."  Um... yeah ... faith doesn't exactly come about by threat of force.  But after Neb's little crazy-escapade, he begins his proclamation with "Peace to you" and all honor going to the Lord and none to himself.  He says the Lord gave him back his kingdom and his majesty; Neb didn't get it back for himself but received it.  And the last we hear from him is praise to Yahweh, in words that sound similar to the Magnificat.