Friday, February 22, 2008

Actually, I prefer the Bavarian Creme....

And I drink my Dunkin Donuts coffee black, or with cream only.

I can actually still remember the first time I ordered coffee and a doughnut at the Dunkin Donuts store on Boylston Street, just down the block from the Massachusetts Historical Society.

"Regular?" the clerk asked, and when I said yes (assuming, being from Seattle, regular coffee meant black coffee) and got it back with cream and two sugars....

Just another small moment of culture shock from the summer of 1980....(and for what it's worth, this quiz has me typed with a capital "T")

You Are a Boston Creme Donut

You have a tough exterior. No one wants to mess with you.

But on the inside, you're a total pushover and completely soft.

You're a traditionalist, and you don't change easily.

You're likely to eat the same doughnut every morning, and pout if it's sold out.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

European Dream

One of the waitresses at the local restaurant where I like to eat breakfast is going to Paris next month with her boyfriend, who now has a little cash in his pocket having just given up his dream of becoming a rock musician, and selling his guitars on e-Bay. So I wrote up a little itinerary of Ten Days in (and around) Paris for a Young Couple in Love and now would like to invite others to read and add your comments.

Also, if you keep scrolling down you're also welcome to read the letters I wrote while living abroad for a semester as a visiting Doctoral Fellow at Aalborg University in Denmark in 2000.

A Seldom Appreciated Ancillary Benefit of a Good Seminary Education

On Monday nights the neighborhood sports bar around the corner from my apartment hosts a "trivia night," where patrons can win up to $40 in free food in what amounts to a two hour contest between teams of up to six members to answer more questions correctly than anyone else in the bar, all in an attempt to sell more beer and buffalo wings now that Monday Night Football is over for the season. Last Monday I wandered in just to catch a bite to eat, ran into a couple of friends I'd met watching the World Series last October, and we decided to form a team...and finished just out of the money (mostly I think because we were being so convivial we weren't really concentrating on the "game" part of the quiz).

So we decided that we would meet up again this week with our game faces on, and see whether we could be a little more competitive than we were on our first night out. Unfortunately though, both of my team mates stood me up, which meant that I had to take on the entire bar all by myself....

You can see where this is going, right?

Yes, it's true -- all by his lonesome the good Reverend Doctor gave all comers a sound intellectual thrashing, blowing away the competition with his obscure knowledge of history, geography, science, pop culture, literature, movies, mythology and yes, even Rock and Roll trivia (I mean, did YOU know that Jimi Hendrix served in the 101st Airborne division before making Rock and Roll history at Woodstock?). In fact, they even tell me I set a new record high score, with 108 out of 142 possible points. And the worst part is, I know if my team mates had been there with me, we probably could have scored at least another dozen...and perhaps as many as 20. I'm sure one of THEM would have known the difference between the chemical names for Prozac and Viagra.

Of course, even as I bask in the glow of my triumph, there's a little voice whispering in my ear "Do you really need to eat another $40 worth of beer and wings? Do you really need to eat another $40 worth of beer and wings...."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Happy Danes!

Just finished watching a "60 Minutes" interview with Tal Ben-Shahar, Harvard's "Professor of Happiness" who teaches a course for undergraduates on Positive Psychology that apparently fills Saunders Theater every semester. I've been a big admirer of Martin Seligman's theory of "Learned Optimism" (along with the entire closely-related Cognitive Therapy movement at Penn) from almost the day the book was originally published, so it's kind of exciting to see the movement gaining such widespread popularity. And I'm particularly delighted to learn that Danes tend to be the happiest people in the "developed" world. Those clever Danes. Despite having the highest suicide rate in the world (and all without a handgun to be found anywhere in the country), they really do know how to have a good time.

Here are Tal Ben-Shahar's "Six Tips for Happiness" (adapted and expanded from an article by Cindy Sher in the JUF (Jewish United Fund/Metro Chicago) News.)

1. Give yourself permission to be human. Embrace painful emotions for what they are, a natural consequence of being alive, rather than trying to suppress or deny them. When we accept emotions such as fear, sadness, or anxiety as natural expressions of being human, we are more likely to be able to integrate them into the larger context of our lives. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness. The only people who don't feel emotional pain are sociopaths and the dead.

2. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable. When this is not feasible, make sure you have happiness boosters, moments throughout the week that provide you with both pleasure and meaning. The activities we find both pleasurable and meaningful will vary from person to person, from culture to culture, and even within the same individuals at different stages in their lives. But the importance of healthy pleasure and worthwhile activity remain constant no matter who you are or where you live.

3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well-being is determined by what we choose to focus on (the full or the empty part of the glass) and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a survivable learning opportunity which will contribute directly to our eventual success? This is a much more sophisticated idea than simply "the power of positive thinking." How we CHOOSE to frame our experience, by letting go of responsibility for things that are beyond our control, while accepting control of the things we can change (basically, the Serenity Prayer) determines our ability to place failure in context while owning our success. Universalizing the negative ("I'll NEVER be happy") while minimizing positive things (like the importance of healthy relationships) is probably the most significant "thinking error" people make. So do what your mother always told you to do: shake it off, and go find a sympathetic shoulder to cry on until it's out of your system.

4. Simplify! Simplify! Thoreau had this one right two centuries ago. We Americans in particular are generally too busy trying to squeeze in more and more activities into less and less time. Quantity influences quality, and we compromise on our happiness by trying to do it all. It is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing. And even if you could have it all, you wouldn't want it all at once.

5. Remember the mind-body connection. This is the corrective to the most frequent misunderstanding of #3. We are so accustomed to thinking about "mind over matter" and the importance of will-power that we often overlook that the mind-body connection works in both directions. What we do (or don't do) with our bodies influences our state of mind. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health. If you are feeling strong, energetic, and full of life, it is much easier to maintain a positive outlook on the world than it is if you are constantly feeling tired, run-down, and "puny."

6. Express gratitude whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile. Keep a "gratitude journal" and write in it every night, listing at least five things large or small that you are personally thankful for this day. "Appreciation" is not just the ability to admire something for what it is, it is also the GROWTH that takes place over time as we become more accustomed to wanting the things we have, rather than craving things we see on TV but can never truly possess. Managing our expectations and desires so that they conform with reality, and appreciating life for the miracle that it is (in gratitude, pleasure, and with simply joy rather than resentment, disappointment, and bitter frustration) is the basic secret of True Happiness -- the intersection of Pleasure and Meaning. Americans are notoriously ambitious, competetive, aquisitive and it's no wonder that we tend to rank toward the bottom of the happiness scale. We could all learn a lesson from the Danes. Who says high taxes, wind turbines, and socialized, universal health care are bad things?...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Vive La Différence!

a Special Valentine's Day Bonus Cross-Post.

The lovely and talented PeaceBang (who writes a blog, "Beauty Tips for Ministers," that people actually read) recently returned home from her annual mid-winter sunbreak (this year in Florida) lovestruck and with a new SweetieBang in tow, and wrote a lovely soliloquy regarding the successful search for true love at mid-life.

The mysteriously anonymous "Dutch Treat" responded with a weirdly worthy (PB's words, not mine) set of observations expressing a somewhat more cynical and "masculine" point of view, which in turn inspired PB to post one more time about the spiritual discipline of kissing frogs and the enduring search for that elusive brass ring of fidelity and commitment, which ended with a set of Stephen Sondheim lyrics that could have only been more inspiring if PB had actually sung them for us personally.

Now, just for giggles, I've cut and pasted the whole dialogue here (mostly since I couldn't quite figure out how to put in only the appropriate links to the original posts). Enjoy! And let it be known, just for the record, when I take PB out to dinner, I ALWAYS pick up the check.


The manic mind of the minister -- Auntie Mame meets Cotton Mather. Blogging about Unitarian Universalism, UU Christian spiritual practice, occasional cultural and political ravings, and the inner life of ministry. PeaceBang is the alter ego of a small town pastor serving a historic New England Unitarian Universalist congregation.

Re-entry Mode And Thoughts On Romantic Timing
January 27, 2008 on 6:43 pm

Hello ‘Bangers,

Here’s hoping that you’re all well and staying warm.

I am in re-entry mode after a lovely Florida vacation, courtesy of some very generous friends who gave me and a colleague pal the use of their condo. I’m not officially back to work until Tuesday which is nice and gives me some time to unpack, do the grocery shopping, and to curse the gods for their obnoxious sense of humor.

It’s just that, you see, Cupid got out one of his biggest, baddest arrows while I was away and hit me and a perfectly innocent other party with it, so now there’s a little jet stream of romance mojo moving north and south between Massachusetts and Southern Florida. A convenient 1,555 miles apart, that’s all. Well, we’ll see. And he doesn’t even own a computer, so there’s no chance of him seeing this, in case you were worried.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ve been through a few romances with me. Well, let’s say that you’ve been through about 100 bad dates alluded to, sporadic musings on the loneliness of the single life, and many reflections on the special challenges of the single minister.

I have tried not to chronicle every twinge of “gee, I might have met someone special” with my readers — because SisterBang and other pals have always been there to indulge those insecure, ad infinitum ramblings with — and also because no one needs to hear about the ups and downs of a clergywoman’s mostly non-existent dating life and romantic rejections . It’s neither appropriate nor interesting.

But let me offer this: I believe that chemistry is real and that it matters. I believe that kindred spirits and soul mates are real. I believe that we spend many years believing in the well-meant but totally cock-eyed interpretation of us handed down by family lore and old relationships, and that as soon as we jettison all that — really flush it down the toilet for good, it is possible for love to come, and to last. It is that latter process — not having a baby, not getting married, not getting our first paycheck — that makes us truly adult, and makes us truly free for true love to find us.

I have no idea if my new friend from Florida will be a true love. I’m not speaking of what is, but what I believe could be — if not now, maybe later. If not for me, God willing, for thee.

It takes a tremendous amount of work and effort to understand, accept and really know ourselves — to consider the input from those who know us (or think they do) along with our own knowledge of self, and to come up with an accurate and fair assessment of our own character and soul, needs, wants and responsibilities. It takes even harder work than that to hold that authentic person in affectionate and compassionate care, to move beyond the fear and woundedness that comes from being disappointed and treated insensitively, to stop dwelling on past failures, and to trust that God truly has made a unique and precious gift in us that deserves to be honored, and whose deepest recesses are known only to the silent soul. These private places of the soul should not be pried open by curious onlookers or cold-hearted Lotharios who pursue profound confidences in the same fashion that the paparazzi pursue the latest lurid photos of Britney Spears.

Many women have been socialized to gather the opinions of their friends and family when it comes to every subject from how to make a particular recipe, to what they should wear on a first date, to whether or not they should marry, to what career they should pursue next. This kind of intimate and constant gab can be deeply bonding and intimate, but it can also breed the exhaustion and mild contempt that comes with over-exposure to someone else’s vulnerability. At times the best thing for a woman is to cut off, or to be taken off this kind of life-support (however cruel that sounds) and to stand in her own truth for awhile. Not just to cultivate wisdom through spiritual practice and attention to her intuition (which she should be doing already), but to actively assess and, if need be, reject the version of herself assembled by her circle of intimates and to shore up her confidence in the true version; the woman she finally, after many years of hard and honest work, knows she is.

How can I ask someone to love me for better or for worse, unless I can love and accept myself through my own better or worse? Cliched to say it, but I owe my true friends the gift of finally getting it through my thick head that even at our “worst,” we all deserve to be treated sensitively and with compassion, and that love at its most basic means sticking-by. The lesson has finally stuck. Thanks, pals. You know who you are. What Jesus has been trying to convince me of for all these years, you have made real. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the opportunity to practice that spiritual discipline with a Sig Other?

Let’s just say this: if I do ever find true love I would want it to be just like this: during a time of radical emotional freedom and healing, of feeling particularly clear on who I am, what I need and how I want and expect to love and be loved. So no matter what happens with this particular conflagration, as the old song goes, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”

Oh, and you know that check-list that so many of us carry around in our heads about who we think we should be with? I’m re-assessing my approach to that. My checklist used to have 40 or so items on it. Now it has about 12:

My Ideal Mate

1. Should be kind and considerate.
2. Should know how to love and be loved, and that includes honesty, trust and loyalty.
3. Should have a great sense of humor.
4. Intelligence.
5. Some kind of cultural interests and talents.
6. Charisma.
7. Be attractive to me.
8. Be attracted to me.
9. Have nice manners.
10. Not be an active addict or criminal.
11. Be politically progressive and actively involved in a spiritual practice or community.
12. Makes my heart go thumpety-thump.

Comment by Dutch Treat — February 1, 2008 #

A dozen, down from forty? It’s no wonder some people think men and women come from different planets! Since adolescence my list has grown from one item to two:

1. Has nice tits (any size)
2. Not crazy (negotiable if tits are nice enough)

Seriously though, of course there has to be some sort of mutual attraction or the whole thing’s a non-starter.

Kind, considerate, well-mannered…sure, why not? I mean who wants to be with a cruel, rude and inconsiderate slob? (Oops. Forget I said that. Sorry I asked).

Intelligence and a great sense of humor are highly overrated. I frequently get turned down for dates by women who don’t think they’re smart enough for me. Good thing I can still laugh about it.

Let’s see, spiritually-aware progressive or drug-addicted criminal? I’m going to have to think about that one a little longer.

Making someone’s heart go thumpety-thump is not exactly something anyone can expect to do 24/7, not even movie stars. Some days (hell, these days most days) I’ll settle for a toe-curling climax. Although I have to admit that the next best thing is that sly half-grin and playful twinkle in the eye that reminds me of the last one, and makes me eager for the next.

Charisma? What exactly do you mean by “Charisma?” But I suppose you know it when you see it.

I guess if I were making a longer list (besides the cleavage and sanity thing, and skirting entirely the far more troubling issue of whether or not constant societal objectification eventually makes ALL women crazy), I would have to say that I generally go for smart and funny too — along with kind, considerate, sensitive, well-mannered, politically-progressive and great hair. And yes, she ought to be at least as into me as I’m into her…but not TOO much more — because that gets complicated too.

But mostly I’m just looking for someone who “gets” me — an adventurous soul, curious and generous, thankful, broad-minded, well-travelled and non-judgmental…and definitely not a prude either, although shy and slightly modest (or even a little demure) is probably a better fit than loud and profane.

Not that there’s anything wrong with loud and profane.

But at the end of the day, it really does come down to knowing how to love and be loved. And isn’t this really what we’re all trying to figure out anyway? Honesty. Loyalty. Trust-WORTHINESS. I’m surprised Fidelity didn’t make the list. For a lot of folks, that would have been #1. Not to mention plain and simple old fashioned “commitment.” But that’s what we're all supposed to be afraid of, right?


Being Alive: Reflections on The Search For Commitment
February 2, 2008 on 8:49 pm |

I wrote a few days ago about how Cupid done zinged me and a poor, unfortunate soul right in the soft, fleshy part of the heart while I was down in Florida, and Dutch Treat commented that I left “commitment” off of my list of Ideal Qualities for a mate. He said a lot of other worthy things, too, including suggesting that constant objectification may make all women crazy to one degree or another. Well said, brother, and thanks for the weirdly feminist solidarity there, ’cause I tend to agree with you.

I left “commitment” off my list because it was looming so large in my mind that I plumb forgot it. Of course, trustWORTHINESS and commitment. First. Foremost. Forever. How could I have forgotten to say so? What else is there in the end, and what else has been so painfully and sorely missing from all of my previous relationships? You can be in the big, glorious Love Shack all day long, but until someone says, “You and me, baby. You are the brass ring and I’m grabbing it, I’m coming for you, I’m launching myself over the castle walls of all the years of your bitter disappointments and coming to get you, ’cause you’re the prize,” all that billing and cooing and dopamine high is just a pleasant diversion, a sport, a delicious but ultimately unsatisfying meal. And, at my age, increasingly not worth the effort and the hurt. A girl can only get her hopes up so often before she loses some resilience and opts for quiet, peaceful nights with the cat over a ride on the dopamine rollercoaster.

Folks like me who have been dating for what seems like thousands of years are intensely weary of the “Shopping for a Mate” approach made particularly crass by on-line dating sites (scroll through the faces and descriptions, delete, delete, delete, scroll, scroll, scroll some more) and are intensely familiar with the issue of commitment, or lack thereof. We dress up for the Relationship Audition, doll up, get and give the once-over, hope to finally attract a decent companion who will hang around long enough to (however begrudgingly) come to care for us and to become the guy/gal who has GOT. OUR. BACK. Over many years, we come to understand that we have got our own backs, and that single life is wonderful in many ways. But still, for many of us, the hope lingers. We are fine on our own, but gee, wouldn’t it be great to have a Special Someone? Not just any old someone you’re settling for, but someone worthy of the effort it takes to be in a relationship?

While we search, here’s some of what chicks like me endure on those hundreds of dates:

1. No chemistry and occasionally nearly-fatal boredom. 2. We like him, he doesn’t like us; rejection. 3. Slight attraction, but no time or energy for a relationship. 4. He’s depressed, bitter and angry about divorce, needs a therapist, not a girlfriend. 5. Can’t stop talking about former relationships/guilt about being bad father to children. 6. Addictions, or constant reference to former addictions that obviously define his life and sense of self (not necessarily a character flaw, just can’t relate). 7. Major religious differences with obvious lack of respect for our beliefs; arrogant spiritual superiority. 8. Voted for George Bush, and would again. 9. Immediate, unwelcome pressure for sex/no interest in physical intimacy. 10. The scary drama queen- wants to marry you even though you’ve expressed not one iota of interest. 11. Sexy but obnoxious, irritates you even as he attracts you. 12. Funny, cute but totally passive, dating him finally feels like dragging 200 lbs. of potatoes behind us on a little red wagon. 13. Charming, sexy and attentive but just a low-down, cheating lying dawg in the end. 14. Intimidated by successful women/unsupportive of your life (in my case, considers the Church competition for my time, love and attention). 15. Just a loser you would never have wasted your time on if you hadn’t been so lonely (Yes, God loves him but he’s got nothing whatsoever to offer you).

This is how I’ve spent the past 15 years. One item to represent each year. I could go on, of course. The inappropriate crushes. The ones who seem great from a distance (such an impressive resume!) but are really sleazy characters up close. The egotists and the closet cases, the controllers, the ones with no listening skills, the naughty ones you shouldn’t have messed with but couldn’t resist.

You have to kiss a lot of frogs, kids. So let’s hear some good news! Let’s hear about the couples who met and knew, before very long that they had found the brass ring, let’s hear about the ones who clicked and made it stick, the ones who found each other, who spoke “commitment” not as a dirty word but as a delicious caress on the ear. Let’s hear about those of you who dated for as long as I have and at long last met someone whose integrity and goodness your heart could immediately detect even through thick, crusty layers of hurt, disappointment, bitterness and cynicism. Let’s hear about trust, and how your soul can feel that it has come home in someone’s presence, let’s hear it for love in time for Valentine’s Day. Why not? We certainly hear enough bad news about it; let’s sit around the PeaceBang fire and share some of the quiet, unreported tales of happiness between two people.

You do that, and while you do, dig these lyrics by master Broadway genius Stephen Sondheim who wrote this song for the musical “Company,”


Someone to hold you too close
Someone to hurt you too deep
Someone to sit in your chair
And ruin your sleep
And make you aware of being alive
Someone to need you too much
Someone to know you too well
Someone to pull you up short
And put you through hell
And give you support for being alive-being alive
Make me alive, make me confused
Mock me with praise, let me be used
Vary my days, but alone is alone, not alive!
Somebody hold me too close
Somebody force me to care
Somebody make me come through
Ill always be there
As frightened as you of being alive,
Being alive, being alive!
Someone you have to let in
Someone whose feelings you spare
Someone who, like it or not
Will want you to share a little, a lot of being alive
Make me alive, make me confused
Mock me with praise, let me be used
Vary my days, but alone is alone, not alive!
Somebody crowd me with love
Somebody force me to care
Somebody make me come through
Ill always be there
As frightened as you to help us survive,
Being alive, being alive, being alive, being alive

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I am SO ready...

for winter to be over. Last night's storm was the most annoying yet; probably 8 inches of wet, heavy snow, and of course the snowplow buried my recycling before the garbage collector could collect it...then about 9 am the snow switched over to freezing rain, and then not-so-freezing rain, and now after nightfall the street outside my house is like a river. Not a slow, lazy, meandering river either. A rushing river....

Needless to say, Princess Parker is not pleased. But I don't think I'd be too happy either if I had to strip naked and poop in snow up to my chest. At least the local firefighters had the good manners to come shovel out a hydrant for her!

Clearly, not a fit night out for man nor beast. And our little household is one of each....

Saturday, February 02, 2008

From Toast of the Town...

to Just Toast. I wish I could say I wrote that, but it's actually something I saw on-line linking to a story about Rudy Giuliani's recent withdrawal from the Presidential campaign. Still, there's nothing I like better than a clever, well-turned phrase. Seems a pity to squander it on the washed-out aspirations of a washed-up Mayor. Even if he was the Mayor of New York City.

Maybe the Romans did say it better. Sic Gloria Transit Mundi Usually translated as "All Glory is Fleeting," but perhaps better expressed as "thus goes worldly glory." Three things all human beings have in common: each of us is unique, none of us is perfect, all of us are going to die. It's important to remember in our moments of triumph, when we stand out above the admiring crowd, that in the end we all become one with the dust from whence we came. As Kurt Vonnegut put it, "so it goes." The details are merely incidental.

And yet, God is also in the details. In the face of death and with painfully-full awareness of our own imperfections, we remain the fortunate recipients of this amazing gift of life itself: this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live, to love, to indulge in the pleasures of our senses and explore wherever our curious imaginations may lead us -- to weigh the worth and value of all we encounter, make judgments, make choices, make a difference in the world. We are born blind, helpless and completely dependent upon the care of others, aware only of the power of our own appetites. How we live from that moment forward to the moment of our death is the product of a great many things beyond our control, but ultimately we alone are charged with the privilege and the duty, the right and the responsibility, the opportunity and the obligation to determine what our lives will mean in the greater scheme of the universe.

Kinda seems a little overwhelming, doesn't it? But you know, that's just the way life is sometimes....

Friday, February 01, 2008


In the last few hours of this contest, The Sharing Foundation surged from out of the money into first place, with over 1700 unique individual contributors (approximately 300 of whom came forward to donate on the last day). You can see the unofficial final results below. Thanks so much to all of you who helped make this possible! Small acts of generosity by large numbers of people can indeed make great things happen.

Global Giving Challenge Leaderboard (unofficial final results)