Random Thoughts On Pop Culture


We were sitting in front of the TV one night when a Liberty Mutual commercial came up. “We’ll buy you a car ONE YEAR NEWER than your current car, with ONE THOUSAND MILES!” they boasted.

I elbowed Christian. “Whaddya think, Christian?”

He nodded slowly. “Hm,” he said. “That means we could get a truck that’s nineteen years old, with a hundred and ninety-nine thousand miles on it.”

(Note: We misheard. It’s only  new cars that get this deal.)

Photo by 00dann, via Flickr

We both laughed, but it got me thinking how many other ridiculous things are in the air around us that we don’t even notice. Like these:

  • No one who has sex in the movies ever has that “fourth arm” problem.
  • Nobody ever gets a raw face from making out the guy who thinks he looks so cool when he fails to shave.
  • Then there’s the compulsion to drop all connecting words. “Recipe” style. I mean, yes, when you read a recipe it says “Add flour, sugar, and salt; stir.” But in spoken speech, you always fill in the words. So why is it that Siri (and other GPS directions) do it. Radio news guys do it, reading their material like headlines, only using a tone of voice like normal speech. Since when did American culture begin to aspire to the level of a robotic voice?

Photo by Jenn and Tony Bot, via Flickr

  • Singers surely, surely do not use that strained, self-aware, “I’m-so-cool” voice when they’re singing a) in church, b) happy birthday, or c) a lullaby to their kids. So what do their REAL voices sound like? (I’m looking at you, Demi Lovato, Megan Trainor.)
  • And male pop stars: WHAT is with that annoying, whiny FALSETTO???? (Not to name names, Adam Levine-and-Justin-Timberlake-give-me-the-heebie-jeebies.)
  • Speaking of unnatural voice patterns, what’s up with the radio deejays who give the…weather and the local…news while…deliberately breathing…in the wrong…place in the…sentence? Maybe you think it makes you sound distinct, but you must drive non-native English speakers completely batty. Don’t you think they have enough trouble following? Have a little compassion and break your…sentences in a…place that makes…logical sense. Pretty please?
  • Has there ever been a helicopter in a movie that did NOT blow up?

What things strike you as weird in popular culture?

Age, Wisdom, and The Tradeoff

Good Health

Climbing inside the roof of the St. Louis City Museum, 2014

Even in high school, I thought people were insane when they said, “These are the best days of your life.” If this is as good as it gets, I thought, I might as well just give up right now.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Three of four years of high school I enjoyed very much. But college was much better, the immersion in music and in a community of people who were as music-geeky as I was. And then I met Christian and discovered my calling in liturgical music, and found another community of people, even more in tune with my outlook on the world. (I get to go hang out with all of them in a few weeks.) Even grad school, for all the emotional turmoil I experienced those two years, was a deeply enriching experience as I got to discover a new and exquisitely beautiful locale and meet people who remain near and dear to my heart to this day.

Factor in marriage, and children, and, well, life is way, way better at forty than it was at sixteen. I always say you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to high school. I’m finally comfortable in my own skin, with more self-confidence than I ever thought I’d develop.

But man, the body.

I know I have readers older than me, so to say things like what I want to say today is inviting trouble. But the fact is, I can really feel the effects of age.

I had a sweet spot that lasted about eighteen months, where I was regularly active and on my way to/holding on to a healthy weight for the first time in my life. (See, in high school I couldn’t even run a mile without stopping to walk in the middle.) I’ve discovered that I really love being active. It feels good. And equally important, I love to eat, so I need to be active. Very active.

But in October my feet started to hurt. The doctor called it plantar fasciitis. My massage therapist, who is fast becoming my go-to person for all physical problems, said it’s a mimic condition but not the same thing. He dug into my calves at incredible discomfort…and after about six weeks, the pain receded. Soon to be replaced by pain in my knees, caused by tension in my quads. I was just beginning to recover from that when the sun screen fell off the camera while I was running to capture a photo, and landed just right under my right ankle, causing me to sprain it.

And now, before the sprain is even fully recovered, the knees are back in play.

My one real regret is the fact that I squandered so much of my body’s prime active years insisting I was not cut out for exercise, that I was incapable of losing weight, and generally not recognizing my own laziness and how much I was giving up in order to hang onto it. I’m gradually coming to terms–not a sense of peace, yet, but ground level acceptance–with the realization that for the rest of my life I will have to pay close attention to knees, ankles, shoulders, feet, to stretch and massage and rub Tiger Balm into myself, not to feel better, but simply to be able to keep moving at all. And knowing that at forty, I’m still close to the top of that hill, that there’s really only one direction to go from here, and it’s not the direction I want to go.

I guess the reality is that you need all the wisdom of increasing age to deal with the physicality of increasing age. Can I get an amen?

Sex Always Has Consequences


Photo by Selbe <3, via Flickr

When I heard the story on the news this morning, I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or do a face palm. There’s a new study out saying that women taking the newer-generation mini birth control pills have 3x higher risk of blood clots compared to women who don’t take oral contraceptives. But, they hasten to add, that doesn’t mean you should stop taking them.

I’ve come to a realization lately that I think all women, and frankly all men too, need to come to terms with. For me, it was a long time in coming, considering how obvious it is.

There is no such thing as sex without consequences.

Proponents of natural family planning and proponents of artificial means of birth control both seem unable to grasp this simple truth. The NFP community likes to harp on the side effects of birth control and its potential to damage human relationships. Those who use birth control deride NFP as ineffective and contrary to human nature because it requires people to fight their instincts to come together at women’s most fertile time.

We would all like to think there’s some magic bullet that takes away the sacrifice and, dare I say it, suffering that is part and parcel of reproductive life. We want to be able to enjoy the coming together without the side effects/consequences. There are basically three courses you can take: you can impose artificial controls on nature (contraception); you can work with nature (NFP); or you can do whatever you want and let the chips fall where they may.

Photo by einalem, via Flickr

But every one of those paths has consequences.

If you use natural family planning, you have to deal with occasional (and for some people, frequent) ambiguity in the signs and the need to abstain when the woman is most interested in sex. There’s no question that requires sacrifice and, sometimes, suffering.

If you use chemical contraception, though–assuming it does what it’s supposed to do, and fools your body into thinking it’s pregnant already–you’re giving up that increased sex drive altogether. Which is why I find it puzzling when proponents of birth control criticize NFP for the abstaining when the sex drive is highest. I mean, it’s not like contraception solves that issue. And besides, there’s that whole thing about side effects, and environmental impact, and blood clots. Again: sacrifice, and sometimes, suffering.

Your third option is to let the chips fall where they may. You get the best of both worlds: sex whenever you feel like it, without side effects, without increased risk of blood clots. But there’s a natural consequence to that, too, and it involves bigger cars and bigger houses and a humongous grocery bill, to say nothing of college costs. And a lot of time pregnant and breastfeeding and exhausted. So again: sacrifice, and sometimes, suffering.

The reality is that sex does have consequences, no matter what you do. You can gnash your teeth all you like, but that’s the reality. Our job is to make the most responsible choice we can, based on as much information as we can. And the longer I’m involved with natural family planning, the more thoroughly convinced I become that NFP, while not without consequences, is the best option. It’s not the easiest, but it is the best–for women, for couples, for the world.

Why I Hate The “Blaming The Victim” Argument


In the midst of the online debate about Ferguson last November, someone I know posted this status update on Facebook:

Ferguson status

A little provocative, to be sure, but I found value to this point of view, and it was one I hadn’t heard anyone else acknowledging amid the screeching chorus of pointing fingers and moral outrage on both sides of the so-called conversation. What I saw in that status update was a clear-eyed recognition that the only way forward could not be imposed from outside, but had to be undertaken by the people for whom the issue mattered most–those in Ferguson.

So I shared the status.

Photo by jetheriot, via Flicker

Almost immediately, someone invoked “blaming the victim.”

I cannot tell you how much I loathe those three words. There is no other phrase I can think of that so effectively shuts down discussion. What possible response can there be to that accusation? None. Any protest simply proves the point in the mind of the accuser.

So of course, I simply fumed in silence and swore off participating in conversations on the topic.

But I thought of it again this weekend, because this story appeared in my NBC news feed: Ferguson’s Future May Lie In The Hands Of Its Voters After Shootings, Unrest.

And I thought, Look at that. He was right. Now even the national news is saying it.

This is anything but blaming the victim.  It is a search for solutions. The final quote in the video interview with candidate Wesley Bell is: “I want to be a part of that solution. I think it takes people in the community to step up and do it.”

Solutions. That’s what it’s all about.

Bad things happen to everyone. When they do, it’s natural and even productive to think, “Did something I did cause or contribute to that?” You do this, not because you think you’re to blame, but to see if there’s something in the way you handled the circumstances that you need to rethink in the future, to try to avoid it happening again. You learn from the past, or the past repeats itself.

I can sit here and tick off a dozen examples of this in practice in the last couple of years in my own life. It’s never as simple as who was right and who was wrong, who’s the aggressor and who the victim. People always do what they do for a reason. They may not be good reasons, but the reasons are a result of people’s individual experiences. When bad things happen, we have to acknowledge that reality, if we want to move toward a better future.

And that’s the key here–when we go around throwing blame, we’re not getting any closer to a solution. In fact, we’re throwing obstacles in the way. And when we go around accusing people of blaming the victim, we’re throwing up the biggest obstacle of all.

In the end, what matters most is never making sure the blame rests with the right person. What matters most is working toward a solution, toward a better future.

Road Rage And Other Rage


Photo by Tony Fischer Photography, via Flickr

Three times in recent weeks, I have drawn the ire of other drivers. It’s enough to make me soul-search whether the problem really is me.

The first time, I’d turned the engine off at a long light and the car behind me wasn’t happy with the extra second it took me to get moving forward when the light did finally change. No brief tap of the horn for her; no, she expressed her displeasure with a protracted blare and then tailgated me for the next mile. I got a speeding ticket on that stretch of road a few years ago, so I always keep my speed under control there…but I admit I took great pleasure in doing so that afternoon.

The second time, I was preparing to turn left off a two-lane highway. I’d started to lean left when I realized the oncoming car was close and moving fast, so I decided it would be safer to wait. The pickup behind me leaned on his horn….and held it…the entire time the car was approaching and passing. I thought that was beyond obnoxious, so I deliberately waited an extra second to turn, just to make the point. Which caused him to continue holding the horn the entire time I turned left, and for about a tenth of a mile after he roared on down the highway.

The third time, I had a car full of kids, not all of them mine, and I exited the interstate to find the left-turn lane unusually backed up. After about four minutes I realized the sensor was malfunctioning and we weren’t going to get a green light at all. Waiting wasn’t an option. I had to take the carpool kids home and get back to our house before Julianna’s bus. The solution was to pull into the right-turn lane instead and find a place to turn around somewhere down the street.

I couldn’t see around the traffic behind me, so I poked my nose out far enough to give me a sight line. And then I stopped, because there was a car flying up the ramp. I let him get past and then pulled out behind him.

As he sat waiting to turn right, he fisted me a predictable middle finger. And then, apparently deciding my lack of reaction meant I hadn’t seen it, he did it again.

All this has me evaluating my own habit of assuming the worst of other drivers. We all think whatever speed we’re driving is the right one, whether it’s below, at or over the speed limit. If someone wants to go faster they’re obviously bad drivers in far too much of a hurry. If someone’s going slower than we want to go, they’re obviously bad drivers who shouldn’t be on the road at all. When I’m running late I blame everyone else for holding me up—how dare they?–even though, hello, it’s my lateness that’s causing my stress. It’s no one’s fault, and more importantly no one’s problem, but my own.

It’s so easy to let little things get under our skin. Too often, too many of us (myself included) walk around with a general sense of rage at a constant simmer, just looking for an excuse to erupt…and in some cases, for an excuse to pick a fight. (Facebook, I’m looking at you.) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a snarky, provocative comment on Facebook, thinking it’s my God-given right to opine, and teeter on the edge of “submit” for agonizing seconds before selecting all and deleting.

There are times—like this week—that seem to overflow with irritations and inconveniences. They challenge my resolve to “treasure” the good and brush off the bad. So maybe it’s a good thing to get honked at and flipped the finger occasionally. Because the jarring overreaction it represents reminds me what’s at stake.

The Blame Game


Every time something bad happens, the biggest topic of (cough-cough) “discussion” is: whose fault is it?

It may be a natural human tendency, but it does nothing to solve the problem at hand. Trying to boil everything down to whose fault it is leads to an all-or-nothing approach to complex problems. That ensures one thing: that nothing will ever be solved. Because as long as we are focused on how it’s someone ELSE’s problem, it absolves us of any responsibility to address the larger issues. And whether we want to admit it or not, there are always larger issues at play whenever a hot button topic comes up. But too often, attempts to open up those larger issues devolves into accusations of “blaming the victim.”

Photo via Pixabay

Photo via Pixabay

And that’s a shame, because the biggest, most important issues the human race faces do not exist in a vacuum. People’s choices and behaviors are influenced by a complex series of factors that include their personal experiences, their racial/communal memory, their philosophical and/or religious convictions (or lack thereof), the tone and bias of the news and commentary they encounter, and the society-wide messaging–which frequently pits very contradictory values against each other (i.e.: violence is bad, but violence in entertainment is good. Women are to be respected, except when showing them as sex objects will separate you from your money for a truck, a value meal, or a can of beer).

When we start talking about appropriate or inappropriate use of police force or about sexual assault, to name two, we cannot pretend these other factors do not have an impact. Violations to human dignity are everywhere, from the big and sensational to the way we entertain ourselves and even to the way we interact in comboxes and on Facebook. The problems are systemic, and they often go unacknowledged until they manifest in sensational (i.e. horrific) ways. But sensational or systemic and unseen, the problems are all tied together. If we are ever to make a difference, we have to address the larger context in which the individual violations occur. And the more time we waste hurling accusations about whose “fault” it is, the more ingrained those violations become.

When there are society-wide issues, the solutions have to be society-wide. But when we assign a problem to a macro level, we tend to forget that macro solutions involve a micro level, too. Big violations feel beyond our control, but big violations are built upon billions of little ones, and some of those happen in our schools and communities and even in our own hearts. And those, we can do something about. We have to have the tough conversations with our kids, because if we don’t, their attitudes will be formed by that conglomerate, in de facto ways, instead of deliberately, by those of us who love them. We have to examine our consciences for the ways we could act and don’t, or the ways in which we do act and shouldn’t.

When it comes to the societal problems that outrage us in the news, we all have a responsibility. That doesn’t mean it’s our fault. It means we have the power to impact the world for the better in some small way by the way we speak and the choices we make.

It’s time to stop playing the blame game and look for solutions.

Consent is NOT Sexy


Photo by ctrouper, via Flickr

“Consent Is Sexy.”

I swear, that’s what the t shirt said. And I think the woman wearing even thought it was a good slogan.

I wanted to hurl.

First of all, I have to preface my comments by saying: I get it. The state of relations between men and women sucks. The way we talk to each other sucks. The way we talk about each other sucks. The humor about sex and relationships sucks. The idea that women even have to worry about being violated? Sucks.

But really? “Consent is sexy”? That’s the standard we’re shooting for? As long as they get permission, that’s enough?


Women! Wake up! Just how low are we going to set the bar?

There’s a truism about expectations. I’ve mostly heard it in the context of education: that people will live up to your expectations, or down to them. If that t shirt is any indicator, the bar we’ve set for how we expect to be treated is so low, it might as well not exist. As long as a guy doesn’t rape us, we’ll flatter their ego and call them sexy.


On the scale of sexual attractiveness, consent doesn’t even register. Consent is a prerequisite for claiming to be a man. If we women, in the name of sexual liberation, have chosen to fling ourselves at the feet of men for nothing more than “consent,” then we have brought ourselves very, very low indeed.

Consider this:

Among men who are part of a couple, 75% say they always have an orgasm, as opposed to 26% of the women. And not only is there a difference in reality, there’s one in perception, too. While the men’s female partners reported their rate of orgasm accurately, the women’s male partners said they believed their female partners had orgasms 45% of the time. (From WebMD)

So not only do the men get more out of sex, they’re also clueless about how little their partners get out of it.

And this is okay because…?

If a man wants to claim the moniker “sexy,” he needs to do way, way more than just ask permission. I realize this is a radical concept in the modern world, but sex is the capstone of a relationship, not an audition for it. Relationships between men and women have always been troubled because we’ve failed to make the effort to understand and respect each other for what makes us different from each other. But in the modern world we’ve taken it to a whole new level by making sex the end-all-be-all of existence.

And if WebMD is right, women haven’t gotten much out of the deal. Why are we so concerned about our God-given right to have sex with as many people as possible, without consequences? What are we getting out of it? Has anyone ever stopped to ask herself this question?

Whenever I see dumbass slogans like “Consent is sexy,” hear the way women talk about their husbands to other women, see statistics like the above, I’m torn between gratitude for the amazing man I married and a desire to start screaming at my fellow women for accepting any less.

Here’s another snippet:

Women were more likely than men to show inconsistency between their expressed values about sexual activities such as premarital sex and their actual behavior.

I can’t say for sure, but I think that means women say they recognize that sex is the capstone, not the audition, but their behavior says they’re willing to let men dictate the terms of the relationship.

So much for women’s liberation.

Down deep, I don’t think any woman really thinks this is okay. The focus on romance in fiction aimed at women indicates that we are all seeking authenticity, understanding, and dare I say it, something holy in a romantic relationship. Or perhaps a better word would be transcendence: something in our partner that gives us a glimpse of a reality beyond what we ever thought was possible.

To my fellow mothers–and fathers, too–I say this: we are the ones who form the next generation of men to view women with respect…or not. And too often we shirk our responsibility to point out what is wrong in the world, simply because it’s awkward. We’re so uncomfortable with our own brokenness where sexual matters are concerned, we feel unable to address the subject with our children.

But we have to get over it. We have to confront the ugliness within, look for healing within ourselves, and summon the courage to tell our children–beginning at a very young age–how the world is supposed to look.

Because we can’t let the bar fall any lower than it already has.