Ferdinand’s Secret

Ferdinand’s Secret by Anonymous

I am happy to see the story of Ferdinand, that gentle, flower-sniffing, pacifist bull has made the big screen. I have not seen the film, but unless it completely betrays the book, Ferdinand offers us an astonishingly simple, though not entirely painless solution to a vast range of contemporary problems. Handwringing at many of the world’s apparently intractable difficulties – resurgent authoritarianism, Kim Jong Il’s missiles, Harvey Weinstein, Putin’s flaunting of his six pack, the crisis in the Catholic church, Evangelical support for Trump, the ridiculously crowded field of democratic candidates and the looming demographic disaster of an excess of young men in China – might end if we better understood Ferdinand’s secret, which is really not much of a secret at all. Though obscure to me as a boy, Ferdinand’s back story is clear to me now. He had experienced a small, life-transforming operation that freed him from that great plague of humanity – and bulls – which, to maintain the subtlety of children’s literature, we prefer not spell it out. Yes, it does begin with a T, and so do the excised parts. 

I am likely to be severely criticized for oversimplifying many complex problems, but I think that instead we overcomplexify a simple problem. Freud understood this problem better than most. When I was young I thought Freud probably had a puerile mind, though I didn’t know the word. Now, as I shudder at the rash of towers plaguing the skylines of world cities – Istanbul’s is just being erected – I think Freud may have undersold his big idea. I also used to be shocked, like any good Puritan should be, at the Hindu lingam and at the Near Eastern statuettes – I recently saw one at Ephesus Museum – depicting the effects of what appears to be superhuman levels of testosterone. Either that, or an extraordinarily potent premodern Viagra. But anyone who thinks seriously about modern world leaders, Kim Jong Il’s missiles, or our recent #metoo moment surely must see that we still have far more (begins with a T) around than is good for us. We just aren’t as honest about our idolatry as were ancient near eastern idol carvers. 

The solution is right in front of us in the form of a delightful, warm-hearted children’s book. We might begin symbolically. Suppose we replace the Wall Street Bull, so heavily weighed down at the back, with a more balanced, flower-sniffing statue of Ferdinand, appropriately bandaged. Who could argue with a kinder, gentler capitalism? But we need more than symbols. We need role models. I suggest our presidential candidates might begin leading the world by example. Voluntarily? I am of two minds.  A legal requirement would require a pesky Constitutional amendment, and I can see how the idea might be tough to sell at first. But with some appropriate incentives – a requirement for participation in debates? a massive influx of campaign cash? unparalleled publicity? – who could resist the peer pressure, and the potent benefits – somehow that seems like the wrong adjective –  of such a small operation. Mike Pence would never have to worry about being alone in an elevator with a woman again, and neither would the women. President Trump could clearly demonstrate once and for all that, whatever may or may not have been fake news from the past, he will certainly have no future interest in the Wrong Sort of Playmate. Imagine Melania’s relief.   

But it’s the democrats who stand to benefit most. If the idea caught on, we would likely see an immediate and virtuous thinning of that over crowded field. Those who remained would have the immediate benefit of casting away any past #metoo type scandals, and preventing future ones. What about the women candidates? Wouldn’t this give ambitious women an unfair advantage? The IAAF – the the International Association of Athletics Federations – has shown the way, recognizing the fundamental unfairness of excess testosterone.  Amy Klobuchar, judging from her alleged treatment of her staff, should certainly be tested and disqualified, unless she is willing to submit to hormone suppressants and ongoing monitoring. Imagine the love fest our last Presidential election might have been if the race had been between a Ferdinand-like Donald and a Hillary with suppressed hormones, and smiling in the background an entirely benevolent and disinterested Vladimir Putin smelling the flowers of a new Russian Spring.   

If we Christians truly want to distance ourselves from modern paganism – I’m thinking of the statuette in the Ephesus museum again – then why not just cut if off. Literally.

There is excellent biblical warrant. Origen saw this, acted on it, and has been unjustly castigated ever since. Yet it seems the obvious solution to the modern scandal of the Catholic church. If life long celibacy is really such a good idea, why not make it easier and safer?  It could be a truly back to the Bible moment for evangelicals who have inexplicably resisted application one of the clearest of our Lord’s recommendations.   

So I have a dream, a dream in which crowds of men, all with the face of Harvey Weinstein, fill the Mall in Washington, and like the massive gathering of eunuchs in “The Last Emperor”, hold aloft the evidence that they are no longer a danger to humanity and proudly chant “ME TOO!”  It would mark the beginning of an invigorated – sorry, wrong adjective again – and truly gender-inclusive #metoo movement.  Inspiring!   

*Note: The brilliant author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous.

When the Elephant in the Room is Bigger than the Turkey on the Table!

We here at Communicating Across Boundaries know that this might very well be an awkward holiday season for all of us. Families divided must now come back together around the Thanksgiving table. What on earth are we going to talk about? Here are a few suggestions to promote pre-Christmas “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill toward all men.”

*Talk about the weather! Here in Kansas the weather changes frequently. That allows you the opportunity to go back and talk about it again and again throughout the day. If the weather in your part of the world is more stagnant I invite you to talk about the weather in Kansas!

*Talk about sports! I personally don’t know how to talk about sports very well but usually if you insert, “So…how about those Royals?”, into the conversation, something will take off. Every once in a while you can nod and exclaim, “Yeah!” with authority and a suitable degree of incredulity. (Feel free to insert whatever local team you’ve heard batted around in your part of the world).

*Talk about other Thanksgivings. Remember the time 67 wild turkeys crossed the yard on Thanksgiving Day all those years ago? Remember the time my sister in law and I both brought the same cheesy corn casserole but everyone liked hers better? Remember last Thanksgiving–when everyone came from all over the world? That was such a special holiday.

*Talk about T.V. Has anyone seen anything good on TV lately? Try not to reference reality TV shows as someone might accidentally start talking about the conversation we’re all trying to avoid: Politics!

*Talk about TV in the “olden” days. What show did you use to watch when you were a kid? What time of day did it come on? Who did you watch it with?

*Talk about tattoos. I mean it can’t hurt! If you could get any tattoo what would you get?

*Talk about weird or interesting talents. My husband Lowell can play a recorder with his nose. I can pack a mean suitcase. One of our daughters can impersonate Julia Andrews, the other can swing the hula hoop remarkably well. Our son Connor can talk like Goofy—it’s pretty obnoxious-but it an interesting or weird talent.

*If they were going to make a movie of your life who would they get to play you? This always gets people going in pretty harmless ways!

*What’s the strangest or scariest restaurant you’ve ever eaten at? Why did you go there?

*Talk about Bucket Lists (Unless you’ve got family that are close to kicking their bucket—that might be too morbid!) –What do you still have on yours? Have you crossed anything off recently?

*Talk Thanksgiving Trivia. I hate trivia games. My brain wasn’t wired for them but they do take up conversational space and there are some in our family who are actually quite good at remembering useless bits of information!

            Who was president when Thanksgiving became an annual holiday? (Abraham Lincoln)

            In what year did the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade become a thing? (1924)

            (Skip this one if it’s too close to a political theme!) Which President was the first to give the Thanksgiving turkey an official pardon? (Ronald Reagan)

            What are Turkey chicks called? (Pults or Turkeylings)

            In what year did the green bean casserole first appear on the scene? (1955)

            During Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving / harvest festival, they traditionally eat a stuffed food but it isn’t a turkey. What food do Koreans stuff and eat during Chuseok? (Rice pastry dumplings)

            Where is the only place in Australia where Thanksgiving is celebrated? (Norfolk Island)

            Who do children in Japan give drawings to on Labor Thanksgiving Day? (Police Stations)

*Talk about Thanksgiving! Talk out loud about the things you are thankful for. Acknowledge one another with gratitude. Tell each other about the tiny and the tall blessings you’ve been given. Practice being thankful!

 

We here at Communicating Across Boundaries wish you a Thanksgiving marked by sincere gratitude and deep hope.

 

 

*If you’re still struggling to think what to talk about there are countless websites with conversation starters. Who knew?

http://conversationstartersworld.com/250-conversation-starters/

http://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/Easy-Conversation-Starters-34313495

http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/tag/ages-14-100

**Photo credit goes to Bronzi!

A Little Humour–A Big Diffuser*

*Reader be warned: This post includes inadvertently inappropriate language.

 Reader’s Digest marketed the old expression, “Laughter is the best medicine”. We used to have a stack of old Reader’s Digests in our house in Pakistan. I remember flipping first to the Laughter is the Best Medicine page. We’d read them out loud to each other and we’d laugh and laugh.

I’ve known laughter to diffuse cultural blunders, language mistakes, awkward situations. I’ve seen the elderly and young children distracted from pain through laughter. I’ve watched a case of the giggles remove fear. I’ve been a part of circles of friends who’s hearts are knit together through their shared sorrows and their deep laughter.

On Saturday last, Lowell and I proved, that laughter has the power to defuse a miserable marriage moment!

We were having a pretty intense conversation. How do we respond when our memory of a particular event is different than another person’s memory of the same event? Lowell thought I was too quick to exert my own “rightness” –He felt that I may be too forceful in establishing that I remember things accurately. We were not arguing but the conversation was certainly pockmarked with some pain. It was not a pleasant exchange.

In the middle of it I turned to Lowell and said, “I feel like I’m patient.” His response was quick and registered all over his face! He looked at me disbelievingly and with a little anger. In an elevated tone he retorted, “Really?! That’s what you’re going to say right now?” I, in turn, was a little off put by his expression and his harsh response, “Why does that make you so incredulous? Why are you responding like that?”

He looked me full in the face, still not understanding why I would declare that, in the midst of this conversation. Pausing, to measure his words, he said,

“You feel like pig-shit?”

“That’s what you heard?” the beginnings of a smile twitching on my lips, “I said I feel I’m patient! Not ‘pig shit!’!”

No wonder he’d been so incredulous!

We both threw back our heads and laughed hard. The intensity of the conversation was passed. We laughed long and with great relief. Our faces turned red and a few happy tears squeezed through our scrunched up faces. Humour had saved the day.

The moment keeps returning to me and I find myself bursting out laughing! On Thursday I was attending Adelaide’s Parent-Teacher Conferences. I was waiting to speak to one of her teachers. The parent ahead of me was taking a very long time. I tapped my toes. I tried to guess what others teachers in the room taught based on their names. I tried to organize my shopping list in my head. I thought through the weekend ahead. At one point I said to myself, “Normally, I feel like I’m pig shit…I mean patient!” A huge smile burst out on my face and I burst out laughing out loud. Surprised by the noise of my own laughter, I quickly covered my mouth with my hand.

A little humour had once again served as a big diffuser.

Books and My Moral Dilemma

English: All 24 John Griham novels as of June ...

I remember the first time I did it. You do it once and you can never go back.

It was a John Grisham novel – The Firm. We were living in Cairo and my husband was traveling. I had little kids — four at the time. I had bathed, storied, and kissed them and as I passed bedrooms I could hear their soft, rhythmic, innocent breathing.

This was My time.

I lay in bed and picked up the book. The only reason I hadn’t read during the day was time. And now I had time.

I began reading. And I read, and I read, and I read some more. I was deeper and deeper into the novel. I knew it was late but I avoided the clock. When I finally looked, it was already 2 in the morning. I knew I had to go to sleep. But I also had to know the end. I had to. I couldn’t stay up reading — I was single parenting, making sure four children were where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there. But I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t know what happened. Would the lawyer and his wife make it?

It was a moral dilemma. I knew that ‘real book lovers’ don’t read the end of books. I knew it was a moral code that could mark me for a long time.

So I did the unthinkable – I skipped to the end. I read the end of the book.

Even now I feel the shame of it, the magnitude of that one act, that one time. Because I knew if I could do it once – I’d do it again. And maybe again. And then maybe I’d do it one more time…..

I would be whispered about and bear the shame and humiliation of being one of ‘those’ people, one who reads the end of books. “Who does that? Who reads the end of books?” would be the conversation and I would shake my head and say “I don’t know! Who does that?” While inside I would hang my head and pray they never found out.

What about you? Have you ever skipped to the end of a book? Did you break the unspoken law of book reading? Tell all through the comments.

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Readers – Today Communicating Across Boundaries celebrates 1000 posts! You helped this milestone happen by reading, contributing guest posts, and interacting with pieces that you read, posts that resonated in your heart and soul. Thank you! Here’s to 1000 more! (If blogging even continues as a ‘thing’, right?!)

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When the Sh*t hits the fan!

mythbusters.jpg

We love to watch the show, MythBusters. On MythBusters  Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman and their team use the scientific method to prove or disprove movie stunts, YouTube videos, rumours, myths, news stories, idioms or even their own personal curiosities. They tackle seemingly impossible hypotheses to see if there is any truth in them at all. My personal favourites are their attempts to test idioms.  In season 9, episode 3 they tested the plausibility of the English expression, “When the shit hits the fan”! A series of ridiculous experiments revealed something quite unexpected and it certainly made me laugh and gave me pause to think.

According to the online urban dictionary “shit hits the fan” when ‘things get chaotic or uncontrollable’ or it’s ‘the point at which an already unstable situation devolves into utter chaos’.

Our family has a long-standing attachment to the word ‘shit’—I know it’s shocking but true! My mom and dad never permitted us to use swear words or foul speech when I was growing up. The word ‘fart’ was even off-limits. In our home we passed gas. At the very worst we “tooted” or “cut the cheese”.

We never farted. That was crude and crass and completely unacceptable.

The only exception was the word “shit”…and that only if we said it with a Pakistani accent. Something about that combination made my dad start to shake. The little lines around his eyes would start up first and eventually his convictions would melt off his face into complete laughter. It never failed. Dad would laugh and mom would say his name, “Gary!” with as much as sternness as she could muster as if dad himself had used the offending language!

Later when Lowell and I moved to India we had other opportunities to use the word. In our experience in North India, shit is the expletive of choice for anyone who speaks any amount of English. It’s not really a cuss word. Shit is used to denote poop, plain and simple. The ancient place we rented on the banks of the Ganges River provided ample opportunity to use the word. Frequently the sewage backed up on our bathroom floor. Using the word was a way to secretly let off some frustration but it was also a way to communicate to our landlady what was going on! She understood that word.

The word shit isn’t just used to talk about sewer– it has a variety of uses in India. It was a word that sympathized. When I told our landlady that my dad had been in the church that was attacked by terrorists in Islamabad in 2002, her first response, with her hand quickly coming to touch my arm and her face contorting in sadness and sympathy was, Ah shit!”  When I told her that Lowell had dengue fever, I got the same face with the same concern and the same word of choice, Ah shit!” When I told her something funny that had happened in the market she would laugh and say, “Oh shit!” When I showed her the bathroom floor where the sewage had backed up she’d groan and appropriately exclaim, “Oh shit!”

So you can imagine my intrigue and my amusement with the episode on MythBusters where they try to prove the validity to that interesting expression, “when the shit hits the fan”!

The funny thing is after Jamie and Adam had gone to the work of creating their own blue simulated poo, making a testing site, setting up a fan and then throwing the blue poo into the fan, not much happened. It was so anti-climactic! The blue poo just sort of hit the fan’s protective grate and then fell with a disappointing thud to the ground. They made some changes. They made their blue poo more gooey, they increased the size of the fan, they removed the grate. Eventually they were not disappointed. The blue goo flew! The anticipated results were finally actualized.

It made me stop and think.

Sometimes we expect our stresses and our strains to be far more grand and far-reaching than they are. Our imaginations move into our fears and we become anxious and over-wrought. We dream up horrors and hells and we allow them to paralyze our souls. These fears keep us awake at night. They force us to the edge of our calm. We live in dread of the “shit hitting the fan”.

But what if the shit just sort of plonks against the grate and nothing much happens? What if our worst fears are never actually realized? Or when they are realized we see it wasn’t as we thought it would be? Perhaps we’re stronger than we thought we’d be. Perhaps God was more Present than we thought He’d be. Perhaps our support structures held more than we thought they would.

I think about all the time I’ve spent dreading, fearing, and imagining the worst. (I’ve written about some of them: Better Widow than a Wife, When Fear Proves Love). I’ve spent hours blowing up my anxieties, like balloons for a funeral. I’ve wasted more hours trying to think up ways to protect myself from those same dreaded outcomes.

Like Jamie, on Mythbusters, I’ve donned perfect protective gear to safeguard against the flying poop.  More often than not, it never hits.

I’m not entirely sure what the answer is. I do want to live more fully in my now, in my here. Hopefully the pathetic results of Adam and Jamie’s test will remain with me and tutor me. What they worst feared didn’t actually happen! Jesus didn’t use the expression, “when the shit hits the fan”, but he did teach on imagined future dreads.  He wanted us to live today!

                So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Spice Your Monday With All the Wrinkled Ladies

I’m breaking away from my usual Monday morning contemplation and bringing you something with a bit more holiday spirit. In the United States today is a Federal Holiday – evidently we have a few dead presidents that had birthdays during these months and this is our way to celebrate them. I’m all for it if it means a 3-day weekend.

And in the spirit of the holiday I wanted to post a response to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl appearance. I’d venture very few women can relate to her super sexy over the top show – and I won’t even get into how oblivious the Super Bowl planners are to kids in the audience and parents who want their kids to have  a little G rated fun.

But the video below? I’m pretty sure you’ll love this parody of “All the Single Ladies” from Anita Renfroe. Take a look at “All the Wrinkled Ladies” and see what you think.