Walking in the Woods – Kids Bedtime Story Frame

This is one of the two frames I used for making up bedtime stories for the girls when they were little. [The idea is based on the ‘zipper song’ model in folk music – a basic structure that you modify for each verse (think “Kumbayah” – someone’s crying/singing/praying…)]

“One day, Lisa went walking in the woods. She heard a sound…”

The sound would be someone singing a part of a song OR one of her friends just singing about something they had done recently and she could instantly recognize. Example: if she and her cousin Anna had watched My Little Pony in the last few days, she’d hear “someone was singing ‘it was so much fun, until the show was done, My Little Ponies on the run…” and she’d guess “Was it Anna?” to which I’d reply: “it was, and so Anna asked ‘can I come with you on your walk?’ and Lisa said ‘of course’

Then, the next sentence would be: “One day, Lisa and Anna were walking in the woods when they heard a sound…” and on and on.

There were some common ones: “One day we’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection” is Kermit. “I love you, you love me” is Barney (anyone remember him?), “All you need is Love” is the Beatles, etc.

I tried to mix live friends and whatever characters she was into at the time.

The story always ended the same. When it felt right, or when I couldn’t remember the long string of names, I’d end with: “One day, Lisa and Anna and Rainbow Dash and Paul Simon and Barney the Dinosaur and Iron Man and Mrs. Jarosz went walking in the woods. They came to the top of a hill and looked over and saw a big, green pasture. So, they took out some blankets and laid them on the ground and had a picnic, then they all laid down and took a nap, enjoying falling asleep in the warm sunshine.”

Hope some of you find this useful for your kids.


When Politicians Quote Romans 13

There’s been a ton of ink spilled over the last several centuries about Romans 13 – it was used by slaveowners, it was trotted out a few times during the Reagan years, and it was recently onstage again, this time quoted by Jeff Sessions in support of the administration’s immigration…”policy.”

I’m not going to go into long and boring exegesis on the verse (tho there are a few links below that you might find helpful)1, I only want to point out that this is the same sort of cherry-picking (“read this part, ignore that part”) that people sometimes do (both liberal and conservative) when they want to use the Bible to justify their stand on some issue or other. Whether you want to condemn homosexuals, or support government programs to feed the hungry, or blame all the evils of the world on women (“Eve, why’d you do it?!”), or complain about “these kids and their tattoos”, you can find a verse to support your position.

The best preachers/ministers/rabbis/priests I’ve heard and the best Biblical scholars I’ve read all came back to the same point: you have to read the WHOLE THING – warts and all2 –  and then reflect on any passage in light of that reading.

The whole point of the New Testament is that the admonition to “Love God” and “Love one another” is the lens through which everything else must be interpreted. Serious people can have legitimate disagreement about what policies best reflect this and how to implement those policies (I’m sympathetic to the argument that Jesus was not a social reformer), but to stand in front of people and justify your actions – or your administration’s actions – by simply saying “God says you should blindly obey your leaders” is the kind of behavior that has been turning people away from organized religion since at least the late 80s.


1. A few recent discussions of this verse can be found in the Atlantic, in the Huffington Post (in 2017 when Pastor Robert Jeffress quoted it as giving Donald Trump the right to nuke North Korea if he sees fit), and elsewhere.
2. By “warts”, I mean things like Lot’s daughter getting him drunk and then…you know…sleeping with him, David’s little adventure with Bathsheba, Jesus admitting that he hides the meaning of some of his parables so people won’t understand them and be converted [Mark 4:10-12]

Improv as a Vocabulary Builder

One of the things I really like about having a wide range of players at the Improv Meetups (Taylor or Royal Oak) is that I get a good check on my pop culture awareness. Some examples: I know that “Game of Thrones” exists but wouldn’t recognize Jaime Lannister if he came up and bit me, I’m about 50/50 on current songs, and I’m a little disappointed that more of the group don’t get the My Little Pony and Steven Universe references I make.

They do do well with references to the Beatles and Star Trek, so it all balances out.

Every now and then, though, a word will pop up that only a few of us recognize. It usually leads to us throwing the word in here and there all night, often not knowing what it means until someone finally breaks down and asks.

So, here are a few examples of the things I’ve learned:

cannolo is the singular of cannoli

cloaca /klˈkə/ kloh-AY-kə (plural cloacae /klˈsi/ kloh-AY-see or /klˈki/ kloh-AY-kee)  – the posterior orifice that serves as reproductive, urinary, and digestive tract for some animals

ferrule (sounds like feral) – a metal ring used at the end of a handle or tube to keep it from splitting

ferule (which didn’t come up, but is interesting) – a flat ruler with a widened end, used in earlier days for disciplining children (ref. Tom Sawyer, ch. 6)

There may be more coming up – watch this space!

Can We Learn From the Past? – Tsunami Stones

Last Sunday, Rev. Nate Nix was giving a lesson about paying attention to the signs around us and learning both from our elders and from past experience. I have a love-hate relationship with experts and authority (we tend to over-rely on them and ignore our own experiences and wisdom), but an even more healthy skepticism that “newer is better”. Humans have been through a lot. To ignore all of that accumulated wisdom and experience is just plain dumb.

The point he made about tsunami stones is that they were easy for contemporary Japanese to ignore. Which they did, raising buildings well below the danger zone the stones indicated. And they found themselves shocked and devastated when their homes and buildings were destroyed by high walls of water.

It’s easy for us to ignore warnings about things that we haven’t experienced. Especially things that happened hundreds or thousands of years ago. But “it hasn’t happened recently” isn’t the same as “it won’t happen again.”

As individuals, our life spans are short blips in human history. We need to at least give a listen to those who came before. To blindly ignore advice is just as bad as blindly accepting it.

Heading for the Spolin Games Retreat!

Every since I got myself educated on the history of Improv, I’ve been wanting to connect with Gary Schwartz. He worked with both Viola Spolin and her son Paul Sills and I really like the direction he’s taken with Improv. (This article on spolin.com talks about some different paths in the evolution of Improv. I don’t see one as better than the other — any more than I see playing the guitar as “better” than playing the piano or writing fiction as “better” than writing poetry — but I feel more drawn to what he’s doing than what others are doing.)

A few months ago, I was reading Gary’s regular newsletter and I saw that he was having an Improv Retreat in January, 2018. I was reading it in November and, to my ADHD brain, a retreat in January was “a long, long way away.” So, I forgot about it.

Until today.

I quickly checked his website and saw that there were 3 spaces left. I also saw that he wasn’t holding another workshop in the U.S. for the rest of the year. So, I wrote him a quick email introducing myself and explaining that I really felt drawn to Improv — not as a form of comedy, but as a way of bringing people together, creating a safe space to play, and work together on focus, on being present, on being enagaged and being (as they say) “in the moment.”

He encouraged me to come and so I did some quick shopping for plane tickets (I’m saving $400 by leaving from Chicago), cancelled a Sunday morning commitment (thank you, Greg and Faith, for being flexible), and pushed everything on my “to do” list back a week.

One of my goals for 2018 (not a Resolution, but a real, live Goal) is to become a better Improv leader and see if I can find more places to apply it.

This seems like a good first step.

Mueller, Muslims, and trying to get a balanced view of the world

I have a friend on Facebook who I can count on to forward me links to pro-Trump resources. Even though I have yet to read anything that changes any of my ideas about the man and his antics, I appreciate it. It’s helpful to hear opinions other than your own. Go figure1.

The latest thing I received was a link to an article with the provocative title “BREAKING: Mueller Busted with Muslim Radicals In White House – Could Be Removed From Investigating Trump” on officialnewstoday.com2. As someone who is interested in how our religious lives interact with our political and social lives, I thought it was worth looking into.

I poked around the Internet and found other articles like “Russia Special Counsel Mueller Worked with Radical Islamist Groups to Purge Anti-Terrorism Training Material Offensive to Muslims”3 and “Gohmert Claims Mueller Compromised National Security as FBI Director”4 with very strong language like “[Mueller] purged the training materials for the FBI of anything that offended the radical Islamists.”

The idea that then-Director Mueller ‘caved into Islamic radicals’ kept showing up in these articles. But nothing I’ve read about Robert Mueller makes me think he’s a guy who caves in easily. Plus, this story is being told by people who would certainly like to see Mueller go away and leave Trump alone so he can get on with his program of … (nope, not gonna go there. Not what this one’s about).

So I thought I’d look into it a bit. Here’s what I found:

Back in 2008, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller met with representatives of Muslim and Sikh groups and the Interfaith Alliance. The meeting was requested to discuss information in the FBI anti-terrorism training material that was either factually incorrect or blatantly Islamophobic. As a result of that and subsequent meetings, over 700 pages of documentation were purged5 by the FBI based on four criteria:

  • factual errors
  • “poor taste”
  • employment of stereotypes about Arabs or Muslims
  • presenting information that “lacked precision

Some examples: that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult” leader, that “mainstream” Muslims sympathized with terrorists, and that the more “devout” a Muslim was, the more likely he would be to commit a violent act.

It’s hard for me to see how removing such blatantly offensive material constitutes caving in to the demands of radical Islamists. It seems like an attempt to make the training material more useful by not perpetuating stereotypes that would 1) make FBI agents less likely to talk with Muslims who might provide helpful information and 2) make Muslims less likely to engage with FBI agents when approached.

In the Wired article, Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab-American Institute, points to exactly this point as a reason for the review: “They’re producing these kind of documents that inhibit our counterterrorism efforts. We need our communities engaged, and these have done nothing but alienate us.”

So, what do we have?

An attempt by some of our fellow citizens to not have FBI agents automatically associate their religion with terrorism? Or an attempt by Muslims to hide the fact that they are all just sitting home waiting for the right moment to attack?

What if I say “I don’t know”?

What if I say I don’t know the answer to that question any more than I know the answer to whether the Ultra-Rich of all nations are in cahoots and are enjoying playing 1984/Hunger Games with the rest of us or if they are really just hard-working, incredibly brilliant people who earned and deserve everything they’ve got and are working for the common good?

Or if I don’t know the answer to whether or not I think white guys should be allowed to buy guns, since statistics show that 51% of all mass shootings between 1982 and 2017 were done by white guys?

What I’m getting at is this: each of us interprets data through our own filters, we see the world through our own lenses. It’s just the way humans are built.

So, how do I try and get to a more balanced view?

I think the challenge for all of us is to recognize our assumptions and try to adjust for them. When I first read the article about Mueller, I thought “wow, seems unlikely, but I know I want to believe that, so let’s go look for some evidence.”I didn’t find any.

The facts are: there was a meeting, people developed criteria and reviewed documents, and some pages were found offensive and removed. Whether this is sensitivity to a non-majority community or a government plot to collude with Muslim terrorists is nowhere in the data.

The interpretation is my choice.

I believe that the FBI has a job to identify and counter terrorism, whether it’s from Muslims, North Koreans, white men (who are responsible for 51% of the mass shootings between 1982 and 20176 – “domestic terrorism” anyone?), or Hobbits.

I don’t believe that labeling adherents of a particular religion as “likely terrorists” helps them do that job.

1. or go read Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill’s arguments for free speech.

2 The website that hosted the report, officialsnewstoday.com, looks to be an outlet for someone named Katherine Rodriguez. I couldn’t find articles by any other writers on the site. Ms. Rodriguez’s work can be found on Breitbart, Muck Rack, and other sites, so I am making the assumption that’s where she gets her data. No other sources are cited.

3 https://www.judicialwatch.org/blog/2017/05/russia-special-counsel-mueller-conspired-radical-islamic-groups-fbi-chief/

4 https://www.rollcall.com/news/politics/gohmert-claims-mueller-compromised-national-security-fbi-director

5 the latest numbers I could find, tho this was from the 2012 article
6 https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/


Just to try and stave off comments like: “but the Islamic groups he met with are known terrorists” – they are not. The closest to true is that Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) were unindicted co-conspirators in the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing case, according to the same article on Judicialwatch – a site that tends to see all Muslims as terrorists anyway.