Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Worship Casual

There is a longstanding debate over what constitutes proper church attire. Many of us were raised with the idea that you wore your “Sunday best” out of respect for the Lord. It would be unthinkable to enter a house of worship wearing sandals or a pair of shorts. Many modern churches have adopted a “come as you are” policy that attempts to place the emphasis on worship rather than wardrobe.  White Tail Chapel in Southhampton, Virginia has avoided any potentially divisive stance by not requiring clothing at all.

Pastor Allen Parker says he came to the idea of nude worship after concluding that the clothing requirements of other churches were pretentious and encouraged materialism. He points out that many of the most pivotal moments in scripture featured nudity. From the debut of Adam and Eve in Genesis to the resurrection of Christ in the Gospels, Pastor Parker reminds us that the Bible features many a birthday suit. The church even performs and encourages nude weddings where the bride, groom, and attendees are encouraged to put it all out there.
While the minister chooses to deliver his sermons in the buff, others simply expose their breasts or genitals. White Tail Chapel even has several regular attendees that dress traditionally. Worshippers insist that the clothing-optional policy is not a distraction and everyone is more concerned with hearing the word of the Lord than analyzing the bodies of other members.

First of all, I checked several news sources because a story about a demographically-Caucasian nudist church named “White Tail Chapel” just seemed too good to be true. However, it would appear that Pastor Allen Parker and the members of his flock are true believers. The biggest issue I had were the people that chose to simply “take out their genitals” in lieu of actual nudity.  Maybe I operate on a lower spiritual plane, but I would think such an act would be more distracting than just going full monty. Rather than fellowshipping, I would spend the entire sermon wondering what kind of person whips out his frank and beans but is too modest to unbutton his shirt?

It was also unclear if the service begins with nudity or there is an appropriate time specified in the bulletin where disrobing is expected. I can imagine the choir director standing up and saying, “If you will all turn to page 567 in your hymnals, unbutton your blouses, and sing the first three stanzas of How Firm a Foundation.” My luck I would probably show up and be halfway out of my pants before someone leaned over and informed me that they stay fully-dressed on Palm Sunday.

I would imagine that one of the many challenges of a nudist church is the offertory. Attendees have a built-in excuse for not carrying cash and you wouldn’t want to be seated at the end of the pew while the usher is standing there waiting on the offering plate. Communion could get dicey (especially if your congregation favors intinction) and youth trips would need twice the amount of chaperones.

Despite the obvious pitfalls of naked church, there are several upsides. It is unlikely that anyone would challenge you for your usual seat once your nether parts have become acquainted with the cushion and you wouldn’t have to constantly ask Brother Dave how his surgical scars are healing. Money could be saved on choir robes and separate restroom facilities would be unnecessary.

The weddings would be an entirely different issue. I can think of only a few places my best man could have stored the ring until it made its ceremonial debut and I would rather not bear witness to its retrieval. Also, dripping wax from the unity candle could cause some rather debilitating injuries to the happy couple. Either way, I believe the prospect of being walked down the aisle naked by your own father would drive elopements to an all-time high.

I consider myself fairly progressive when it comes to worship attire, but there is a big difference between making your peace with cargo shorts and being comfortable having the guy behind you whisper that the mole on your inner-thigh has irregular edges. I can applaud the spirit of the pastor, but perhaps the answer lies closer to casual Friday than commando Sunday.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Winter Olympics

The memorable moments began almost immediately as America witnessed Bob Costas succumb to ocular herpes in real time. The first night, while some eye irritation was apparent to the observant, it could have been easily explained by rouge eyelash. Instead, Bob felt it necessary to review his recent medical history on air while assuring us that NBC’s physicians were confident the ailment was a temporary setback. By the second night, I began to suspect that in twenty years the remnants of humanity would refer to him simply as “patient zero.” When Matt Lauer suddenly appeared in the anchor’s chair a few nights into the games, I knew that Costas was dead and a level 4 pathogen grab team from the CDC was probably loading his sightless corpse into a box marked “production accessories.”
The post-performance interviews did not disappoint either. Armed with large format televisions and instant replay, sideline reporters would force the breathless and emotionally-raw athletes to re-live their triumphs (or, more often, failures) while providing impromptu commentary. I imagine that there is only so many times an athlete wants to hear, “What were you thinking just before your internationally-televised failure cost you the podium at turn number 3?”

Always hungry for the tragedy narrative behind any performance, NBC reduced American skier Bode Miller to a quivering mass of despondency by setting a record for the number of times it is possible to reference a recently-deceased relative to a sports figure:

“Bode, what was it like to come down that mountain knowing that your brother, who is dead, won’t be at the bottom to greet you?”

“Bode, this has been such an emotional year for you having lost your brother. Has his tragic demise been on your mind at all?”

“Bode, I saw you glance toward the sky at one point. Were you attempting to make contact with the soul of your unequivocally-lifeless sibling?”

Don’t get me wrong, many of the back-stories are inspiring tales of people working diligently to overcome adversity; but I would almost feel apologetic if the only thing I had to offer was years of hard work and a supportive family. It makes much better television if my parents are serving a twenty-year sentence for strangling a nun and I was raised by my paraplegic aunt in an abandoned tree-house.

What has also become readily apparent is that I have no idea how to score ice skating. In the absence of an outright face-plant, I have no way to differentiate a stellar performance from a lacking one. Time after time, I will listen to the commentator remark on how obvious it is that the Norwegian connects with the audience on a deeper emotional level that the Canadian. Unless the Norwegian is utilizing t-shirt cannons as an element in their short-program, I cannot fathom how they are scoring that.

Finally, there is no greater time for NBC’s vast team of research interns to shine than an Olympic broadcast. I lost track of how many times broadcasters were able to shoehorn an obscure statistic into the running commentary. While it is interesting to know that this is the first time in 87 years a bi-racial Latvian short-track skater has been in medal contention on her parent’s wedding anniversary, there is a point at which it is OK to just inform us that this is her first Olympics and end it.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Billy Ray Protects Your Children

Let me begin by saying that I am a hypocrite. I have misled others while expecting honesty in return; advocated for generosity while being selfish with my own money; and quietly judged the choices of my peers while attacking those that would dare to reciprocate. With that out of the way, I would like to bring to your attention the recent professional exploits of Billy Ray Cyrus.

In 1992, he shot to fame with the number 1 country single Achy Breaky Heart which propelled his debut to 9X platinum status. He released several subsequent albums, with varying degrees of commercial success, before rebooting his career through Disney’s hit show Hannah Montana. Staring and often signing alongside his daughter Miley, Billy Ray found himself again in the public eye. Since leaving the show, Miley has become synonymous with twerking, nudity, and the overall sexualization of young girls.

Meanwhile Billy Ray placed some of his energy into the non-profit censorship organization Parents Television Council of which he is a member of the Advisory Board.  The board’s current campaign specifically attacks “female sexualization” and the “unprecedented levels of hyper-sexualized media content” and decries “the consequences for a generation of young girls.”

In the past, the group has repeatedly criticized YouTube for not being effective enough in removing offensive content and launched a campaign against fast-food chain Carl’s Jr. for airing a commercial featuring Paris Hilton in a swimsuit because it was “very suggestive and titillating.” The group was among the most vocal in calling for the swift punishment of CBS for the infamous Super Bowl XXXVIII half-time show.

So imagine my surprise when I am informed that there is a hip-hop remix of Achy Breaky Heart, on YouTube, featuring Billy Ray surrounding by provocative women. The video begins with Larry King informing us that there is an unidentified space-craft over Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. This cuts to footage of Billy Ray walking alongside a young boy carrying a fishing pole. Soon enough, the pair are captured by the alien craft where they (and by extension we) are subjected to three solid minutes of varsity-level booty claps and intergalactic partying at the hands of an alien race exclusively populated by voluptuous twenty-year olds with an extremely limited clothing budget. Your move Carl Sagan.
Billy performing aboard the SS Decency
While the video for Achy Breaky 2 is neither the most offensive or misogynistic music video in heavy rotation on YouTube, I am willing to bet that it is the only one featuring a board member of the Parents Television Council. How exactly can he continue to solicit charitable donations to fight the over-sexualization of women in media while actively working for its proliferation? I felt like I had uncovered a dog-fighting tournament sponsored by the Humane Society.

The only thing that could have made this worse is if Billy was late for an advisory council strategy meeting for their new campaign because “Dancing Woman Number 4” needed help readjusting her electrical-tape thong. He even name-checks his daughter’s controversial music video “Wrecking Ball” which, as of this writing, still remains the most ambitious attempt to mainstream the nude-demolition movement.

This is still America, and if you want to star in a music video while surrounded by a bevy of extraterrestrial cleavage that is your choice, but please have the decency to stop doing so while simultaneously condemning a hamburger franchise for unnecessary “titalization.”   

Monday, February 10, 2014

Norovirus: A Layman's Journey

Recently, my home became the scene of what I can only describe as a gastrointestinal crime. The suspect was the Norwalk or norovirus (colloquially known as the stomach bug) a highly contagious ailment that has recently become the scourge of the cruise industry. My introduction to it came by way of my son, who began vomiting one afternoon before his nap. While spitting up is not uncommon for our child, Linda Blair impressions are, so we began hydrating and noticed that he was running a slight fever.

Within about 16 hours my wife commented that her stomach felt “uneasy” and that she was not going to be able to go into work. Within a few hours, she began a digestive pyrotechnics demonstration that I was not keen on experiencing firsthand. I was in the midst of a 15 year no-vomit streak and I wasn’t going down without a fight. As my wife lay motionless on the couch, I disinfected and washed my hands to the point of epidermal damage. I knew the gestation period for the virus was short, so I hunkered down and waited to see if my streak would hold. 

Later that same day, I began to sense an intestinal uneasiness that I quickly attributed to psychosomatic influence rather than actual affliction. I convinced myself that I was so concerned with avoiding symptoms I was manifesting them. However, the nausea continued to intensify over the next few hours until I found myself lying motionless on the sofa trying to avoid even the slightest change in my position for fear that it would start a chain reaction.

For several hours, my resolve held even as the television subjected me to what I perceived to be an inordinate number of fast-food ads featuring slow-motion footage of meat patties striking grilling surfaces. Then, in a flash, it was over. My entire adult life I had managed to avoid retching over a toilet, yet here I was muttering half-hearted curses between waves of violent egress. After some Listerine and a cold rag provided by my still ailing wife, I made my way back to the couch where I violently began shivering.

The nausea abated around 5 AM and I was finally able to doze. I spent most of the following day in bed drinking water and Gatorade between bouts of fitful sleep until my fever finally broke. Weak, but confident that the threat of vomiting had safely passed, I rejoiced in the virus’s brevity. It was around this time I became aware of the contagion’s parting gift: the thunder squirts.

The thunder squirts is a much different, but no less violent, form of digestive ejection. Once again I found myself in close proximity to the toilet and, as before, there were audible proclamations of “sweet Moses!” and “son of a podiatrist!” Unaware that my body was still in possession of enough liquids to turn my colon into a luge, I sat in awe of the virus’s potency as I filled the restroom with a cacophony of sounds akin to a fanboat race through a Louisiana swamp.

My reintroduction to solid foods was gradual. I ate a vanilla wafer and then braced myself for three hours, but I eventually was able to return to normal. My sense of taste still seemed to be somewhat skewed (or there had been an industrial accident at the Campbell’s Soup Factory) but other than that the Norwalk virus disappeared from our lives as suddenly as it entered. Here is to the beginning of another 15 years.   

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Age of Worry

It recently occurred to me that if you are the sort of person prone to worry, parenting is a never-ending buffet of anxiety catalysts. My wife and I have been parents for over ten months, and somehow we manage to be almost as concerned about the presence of a behavior as its absence.

For example, we spent a great deal of time and energy ensuring that our son takes regular naps. This process began as intricately choreographed dance of pacifiers, gentle rocking, and impeccable timing. 

The days he napped well, my wife and I would hold a post-nap debriefing to discuss the exact combination of techniques that had led to this unprecedented event. What time of day was it? What was the snuggle-to-snooze ratio? Was he placed in the crib facing true north or magnetic north?

Invariably these proved to be fruitless, but we indulged in them nonetheless. This continued for several months until we reached a point that he was able to put himself to sleep. We basked in this newfound efficiency until we began to worry that he was sleeping too well. We found ourselves watching the clock as it passed the two hour mark and wondering if perhaps he had taken ill. What if he stopped breathing? Should we wake him up? Had one of his kidneys failed rendering him too weak to signal that he had regained consciousness?

This was even worse when it came to fecal output. There were a few days in a row were they was a great deal of ingress but not egress. The doctor advised that a little prune juice mixed in with a bottle should do the trick so we began dosing him with nature’s laxative every meal and eventually there was a day of reckoning. The force was substantial enough that he came close to blowing the officially-licensed Sesame Street characters off his Pampers.

Alternately, my wife and I would find ourselves in conversations only a parent would understand:

“Honey, I think he might be pooping too much.”
“What do mean by too much? Volume or frequency?
“Let’s start with volume. In terms of an oil spill are we talking the stain in the garage or Exxon Valdez?”
“Can you please try and take this seriously?”

Before becoming a parent, I cannot imagine having an in-depth conversation with my wife about bowel movements where phrases like, “It was more Quaker Oats than Cream of Wheat” were common. Even if he somehow manages to produce 2.3 bowel movements and 3 hours’ worth of naps we have expected, there is always eating habits we can concern ourselves with.

We worry that he is not eating enough, or that he is eating too much of one type of food. Then we worry that perhaps we are not transitioning him toward table food fast enough because we saw a kid his age gnawing on what appeared to be a Ribeye sandwich while our sun sucked yogurt smoothies from a pouch. If, however, we give him table foods too soon we agonize over whether or not his tiny incisors are capable of processing the food enough to prevent choking.

This leads to another line of thinking concerning choking. We are now taught to avoid a blind finger sweep due to the risk of pushing the object further into the child’s windpipe. Instead we have been taught to support the infant face-down on one hand while striking it’s back with the other hand. This sounded reasonable, until we realized our son took his meals in a high-chair equipped with a 5-point interlocking safety harness. By the time we extricated him from his high chair I could have already rigged up the shop vac to alleviate the blockage.

I have the impression that this is only the beginning of the age of worry. When these concerns fade there will always be new ones to take their place. Are they fitting in at school? Do they feel like they can come to me with their problems? How can I explain the continuing 8-week processing timeline for new magazine subscriptions despite the advent of commercial spaceflight?