Sunday, March 29, 2015

Holy Bigotry

A monk, a priest, a rabbi, several ministers, and half a dozen nuns walk into the governor's office...

So it's Indiana that takes the ball and runs with it.

The Supreme Court opened the door for the "religious freedom" excuse for state-sanctioned discrimination last summer with the Hobby Lobby decision. At the time, Court-watching pundits warned that the decision would empower right-wing Christians to write their bigotry into law. Then came the waiting game: which state would be the first to extend a sanctimonious middle finger to the gay community? The answer came this week, as Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a bill giving business owners the right to refuse service to persons who offend their religious sensibilities.

If you've followed this blog since its inception two years ago, you know I've had some very harsh things to say about Christianity. I've railed against the institutional cowardice that holds denominations back from implementing the clearly subversive intent of the Gospel, mourned the anti-Judaism essential to the New Testament, and ridiculed Biblical literalists and their bizarre attachment to stories of God-induced mass extinction. You'd be justified in thinking I'v got quite an ax to grind when it comes to religion, whether organized or grass roots. In fact, this has been a long time coming. I grew up in the church, son of a Methodist minister, and was myself (and, technically, still am) a member of the Methodist clergy. Although I had grown increasingly disenchanted with church bureaucracy, ossified theology, and with the unrealistic expectations of the profession, I ultimately left for personal reasons: I just wasn't happy being a pastor, and it showed. Since my departure from ministry fifteen years ago, I've been wrestling with how I feel about the church, about faith, about the nature and even existence of God, and much of that has appeared in this space. One thing I've never had to wrestle with, though, is how I feel about the holy bigots who fill so many pews. I never liked them, and now I'm finding their intolerance intolerable.

When I was a pastor, I had to put up a diplomatic front when it came to homophobia. Even during my three years in Estacada, serving a progressive reconciling congregation that welcomed sexual minorities into its midst, I kept my public pronouncements conciliatory. All that's needed, I assured both my congregation and the civil rights group I worked with, is for the good people of Estacada to get to know some gay people, realize how much they have in common, and how hurtful their discriminatory practices are, and this corner of the world will change for the better.

I believed that then, and I believe it now. What I'm not so sure about is whether the world will change fast enough to avoid another round of the Culture Wars.

Two weeks ago, the Presbyterian Church (USA) took the step United Methodists have been avoiding for decades, declaring itself open to both ordaining and performing weddings for persons with same-gender sexual orientation. I was delighted to read about this, though I quickly discovered what had made this move possible: seeing the writing on the wall, the conservative Presbyterians who had fought the move for so long had finally either died off or just left the denomination entirely. As a United Methodist district secretary told me once, "Sometimes for the church to move, people have to die." Enough had died or left that the balance shifted, and the church did the right thing. 

And now the bad news: when I searched just now for information on the decision, I came up with this story, in Charisma News: "34,000 Black Churches Break Ties with the Presbyterian Church." In fact, as the story relates, it's one organization that represents a number of historically Black denominations that has done the tie-breaking, but the discouraging message is accurate enough: plenty of Christians who take scripture and tradition seriously believe they are called to reject the full inclusion of gay people.

That gets us back to Mike Pence's pen, and the odious document it's signing in the picture at the top of this page. Notice that most of the people surrounding him are overtly Catholic: nuns, monks, at least one priest. I assume the man with the fedora is a rabbi, most likely Orthodox. I also assume the other men--everyone in the picture except the nuns is a man--are ministers of conservative Protestant denominations. What appalls me about the picture, the smiles on all those faces, the pride with which the governor puts his seal of approval on what Indiana legislators have done, is that this is the atmosphere one expects of a landmark piece of civil rights legislation. Here's the best example of such a picture, Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with Martin Luther King, Jr. at his shoulder:


It's a true watershed moment, a President signing legislation that expands rights for millions of Americans who've been oppressed and discriminated against for centuries. This bill, and its companion, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, set the standard for historic laws. This legislation expanded rights, protected marginalized people, and created penalties on business owners who would discriminate against them by refusing them service for no reason other than that they found the color of their skin offensive.

It's a perversion of history, then, to create a similar occasion around legislation that does the exact opposite: protect business owners from penalties for refusing service to persons for no reason other than that they find their sexual orientation offensive. Calling it "religious freedom" is Orwellian. This is nothing short of state sanctioned bigotry. It creates protections for the religiously intolerant.

I don't expect it to stand. Within hours, Indiana found itself the target of a boycott that will cost it millions. It has become the object of national ridicule. Large corporations are reconsidering decisions to locate offices and production facilities in Indiana, the NCAA may pull its basketball championships, and the hashtag #boycottindiana is picking up millions of followers. 

Apart from public disdain, the measure is inherently unconstitutional. Whatever the Indiana state supreme court does with it, it will almost certainly be struck down by the US Supreme Court, especially as business owners are beginning to boast that of course this is about discrimination, not liberty. The question for the state of Indiana is simple: can its legislature admit its made a horrible mistake and repeal the act? Or will it wait until it is forced to do so, thus proving to all the world that it will only do the right thing when it has no choice?

And really, Indiana, Charisma Times, "Good News," Ted Cruz, and every other self-described Christian, Jew, or just plain religious person who is being dragged kicking and screaming into the diverse world in which we all live: what do you honestly think God wants you to do when a gay man or woman walks into your business and just wants to buy something like anyone else? As you spew hatred toward such people, can you really believe that you're without sin, and thus equipped to cast the first stone? Or is it time you took the log out of your own eye, and just practiced common decency?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

54

The silver hairline of a 54-year-old. The wrinkles came with the package.

Happy birthday to me! Cha-cha-cha.

Waking up at 5:00 is handy for getting to school on time. It's not as helpful for getting a full night's sleep. This morning when I could have slept in--it's Spring Break, and it's my birthday--I was wide awake at 5:00. My body clock is stubborn in that way, something I attribute to my age.

I spent a few minutes snuggling with Amy, then eased myself out of bed, put on my sweats, and headed downstairs to start on my birthday breakfast: pancakes with maple syrup. Normally I add blueberries to the mix, but I forgot to stop by a supermarket yesterday, so I settled for sliced bananas and the chopped macadamia nuts that were a present from my mother. By the time Amy came downstairs, the last of the pancakes was on the platter. We were able to eat together, and then she left for her BPA note-taking job in Portland. I took Sarah to the gym for Body Pump, then brought her home, and while she went out with a friend, busied myself with reading the last His Dark Materials novel, then struggling through the first movement of Beethoven's "Waldstein" sonata. I've spoken to both my children and my mother, corresponded with many friends on Facebook, and am now writing. If the weather clears up, I'll get on my bike for an hour. Tonight, I'll take Sarah and Alex into town to meet up with Amy for dinner at the Bazi Bierbrasserie, a Belgian gastropub in the Hawthorne District. By the time we're home and in bed, it will have been a lovely birthday, productive, pleasurable, and fitting for a man of my years.

That part feels off. When I was in my 20s, I thought of the 50s as being over the top and heading back down toward retirement. Men in their 50s took naps, lived in houses that were in serious need of downsizing, were starting to be grandparents, and were counting the days until they could hand in their ID badges and start drawing pensions. I also found them to be distrustful of my youth. What could I possibly have to say to someone with three more decades of life under his belt than I had? I found myself insisting that I knew what I was doing, that I had studied long and hard to be where I was as a theologian, and that if they could just get over their ageism, they'd be amazed at my insights.

Looking back from the other side of that divide now, I'm amazed at how insufferably naive people in their 20s can be. Is this what it means to be middle-aged? To sit in constant, curmudgeonly judgment of the young?

I hope not. Reinforcing that hope is the feeling I have whenever I catch sight of myself in the mirror: That can't be me. I don 't feel that old. I must be under an aging spell. Those can't be my wrinkles, my receding hairline, my silver hair. It's all some cosmic misunderstanding. Why, I don't feel a day over...24?

That is the perversity of identity: I feel like the same youthful preacher who couldn't get the 50-somethings in his congregation to take him seriously. And yet, my body knows I've aged. I may be a fit 54, gradually working myself back into the best shape of my life, but my feet know better. I'm having a renaissance of running, working toward my first races in fourteen years, but it's on my older body's terms: I can't run two days in a row. I've got so much to think and write about, but as soon as I'm on the couch, my eyelids start to droop. When I taste exotic foods, I find myself comparing them to all the other foods I've tried, so that nothing really tastes completely new to me.When I dream about the many places I want to go, it's with a tinge of desperation: time is running out. Yet that is tempered by another sense, that however alien those places might feel, I will always find much that is familiar about them, because I've learned from experience that humans the world over are more similar than they are different.

All these insights are appropriate for a man of my age. Realizing that, I can tell the 24-year-old trapped in my head to stop screaming at the mirror: I'm not the same ignorant, insecure, defensive naif. I really do know things now that I didn't know then, and I know them deeply, down to the bone. 

That's something I wouldn't want to give up. As much as I'd like to have my 24-year-old physique back, I wouldn't want to give up all that I've experienced and learned. I wouldn't want to repeat the traumas that grew out of, and were exacerbated by, my inexperience with people and the world. I wouldn't want to go back to being the trainee, the novice, the journeyman who, however gifted he might be at spinning yarns out of threads of scriptural narrative, had only a tiny reserve of personal illustrations to draw upon.

So the mirror tells me I'm 54. Expanded recovery time tells me I'm 54. And a head crammed full of memories and experiences tells me I'm 54. Why, then, do I feel, if not 24, then maybe 34?

The one clear reason I can see for this age confusion is my current career. Despite being 30 years removed from my masters degree in music education, I've really only been teaching in earnest since 2003. The teachers with this level of experience in my school seem young and fresh to me because they are young and fresh: they're 30-somethings who are still having babies. The teachers my age, on the other hand, are veterans who've seen it all, done it all, and, true to my 24-year-old perception of people in their 50s, are preparing for retirement. I'm an anomaly, a middle-aged man with a younger man's resume. I'm still encountering classroom phenomena that are new to me, just starting to understand how, regardless of cultural trends, children haven't really changed all that much. A 10-year-old now is going to have tastes utterly in keeping with a 10-year-old of 1985. It's an awareness I would have come to in my 40s had I not abandoned teaching when I was 24.

I've been bouncing back and forth between 20s and 50s in this post, which is wholly appropriate because this post, like all the essays in this blog, is about finding myself in this age of transition. And that's the note of hope I'll end on: the gift of passing through so many life changes is that I can look forward to a career that, far from wrapping up, is just picking up steam; to a marriage that is still filled with newness and surprise; to exploring new places, new pastimes, new experiences that I postponed when I was younger because I was too busy dealing with the traumas of my 30s to have time for. I may still need to nap like other men of 54 (and have, several times, during the writing of this essay), but I don't have to look at the world with the disillusioned, weary eyes I see in the faces of those others.

A prost! To new life at 54! And 55, 56, 57...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Foot Odyssey

Foot abduction brace similar to what I wore in bed in kindergarten.

My feet weren't right at birth.

It wasn't full blown congenital talipes equinovarus (commonly known as club foot), but it was severe enough that, for six months when I was in kindergarten, I had to have my feet shackled together at night. The image above should give you an idea of both what that was like for me and what was wrong with me feet. As my mother likes to say, they were "turned in."

Six months of struggling to sleep in that contraption (which, I distinctly remember, made middle-of-the-night bathroom visits next to impossible, especially as I did not yet know how to tie my shoes), coupled with many years of wearing orthopedic shoes, corrected my feet to the point where I could play Little League, walk to and from school, even backpack. Unfortunately, I somehow got the message through all this that I should not run like other children, and so, except for those rare occasions when I got on base, I didn't. Except for the mandatory laps in high school PE, which I hated vehemently, I was strictly a walker. 

In fact, it wasn't until I was 23 that I began running for my health. The year was 1984, and running shoes for bigger guys like me were not easy to find. Few manufacturers made shoes with wide enough toe boxes for my big feet, and shoes with the support features I needed were far beyond my price range--or would have been, had I known they were right for me. The reality was that I taught myself how to run without the assistance of a coach, podiatrist, or even a friend who was a runner. Surprisingly, the interval routine I worked out on my own was exactly like that recommended in running primers I've read. My shoes, however, were decidedly not. They were whatever I could find on sale that fit me.


I continued running in sale shoes with wide toe boxes until 1991, when I developed my first case of plantar fasciitis, a painful tendinitis of the arch that makes walking excruciating. (Oddly, running isn't nearly as painful, but exacerbates the condition.) Podiatrists recommended rest and weight loss as cures--solutions I found counterintuitive, as running, my only form of exercise at the time, was also my only method for keeping my weight under control. But rest worked: a few months of restricting myself to walking, and the pain would subside, permitting me to resume running. One adjustment I did make was to visit a running store, where a salesperson analyzed my gait and put me in some beefy stability shoes. I also got divorced, lost my appetite for several months, and shed enough weight that I was able to run a marathon, and continue training, without any pain flareups, until 1997, when the pain came roaring back. This time, the podiatrist I visited put me in orthotics, and recommended motion control shoes.


I had one other insight into why my feet gave me so much trouble. Almost all of my thousands of miles of running have been solitary, but in 1993, I had, for a few workouts, a running partner. Running behind me, he noticed that, while my right foot landed normally, my left foot executed a weird corkscrew with every strike. This was far more pronounced than the pronation (feet rolling out, rather than in) I'd thought I had, and was almost certainly a relic of the "turning in" I'd been born with, as corrected by the brace.


Vibram Five Fingers running shoes.

In 2011, feeling another bout of fasciitis coming on, I decided to try something new. I'd been hearing for some time about minimalist ("barefoot") running, using shoes that provided no support, and forced the feet to land more naturally, with a midfoot rather than heel strike. I bought a pair and found that, in fact, I could now run without any arch pain. Unfortunately, I also discovered the backs of my heels developing pain in a new location, most likely from the stress this style of running put on my Achilles tendon. Still, I continued experimenting with minimalist shoes for three years, until a sale at the Nike outlet store led me to try a pair of cushioned stability shoes.

I'd been telling myself for two decades that cushioning was not for me, that I needed motion control for my weird feet, but these shoes felt great. I maintained my midfoot strike, took the shoes with me to Ghana, and was able to run every single day in them. Coming home, I returned a pair of minimalist shoes to Road Runner Sports, where I had my gait analyzed and found--to my delight--that the corkscrew was gone. Minimalist running had done for my feet what that horrible brace, the orthotics, and the motion control shoes never could: I was healed of my birth defect. I could now run in normal, neutral, cushioned shoes. Which leads me to these monsters:
The Hoka One-One, possibly the most cushioned running shoe ever made.

These shoes are as maximal as the Vibrams were minimal. There's so much cushioning in them that I feel like I'm running on wrestling mats. But they do something quite unexpected for me: they make me faster. I'm not sure how, but the two runs I've taken in these shoes have been significantly faster than any I've done in years.

I realize that, with just two Hoka runs under my belt, it's far too early to be thinking about marathons. As Amy has reminded me, I had similar raves about the freedom afforded by the Vibrams, shoes with no cushioning at all that felt delightful for the first few months I wore them, but are now consigned to being the shoes I wear when I pressure-wash the patio. And certainly I've been running long enough (thirty years and counting!) to know that, as with educational reforms, hairstyles, skirt lengths, and anything else that can be viewed as a trend, anything revolutionary will eventually be viewed as old school until it can be revived under a new name.

And so what? I'm rediscovering running, and I love it just as much as I did thirty years ago when I first realized it could be much more for me than simply an exercise. Yesterday I ran seven and a half miles, and it felt effortless. Tomorrow I may do even more. Sometime this summer, I'll enter a race. I won't be as fast as I was in my 30s, but that's not why I'll be doing it. This is about overcoming a disability, however minor it may have been.

Some of the most profoundly moving healing stories in the Bible are about disabled people who find themselves suddenly able to see, hear, walk, even run. In the last three years, technology has compensated for my hearing loss, returned my sight to what it was when I was a toddler, and, now, given wings to my feet. To be running, seeing, and hearing at 54 (my age as of Tuesday) makes me feel like I am living in an age of miracles. What wonders will science do for me--and you--next?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Eleven Score and Nineteen (or, Old School Patriotism)


Terror is a wonderful aid to memory.

I mostly loved eighth grade US History. On day one of the class, Mr. LaFordge introduced himself with a clever current events joke, pointing out his name should be easy to remember, since it contained (and after writing it on the board, he underlined) "Ford," the name of our brand new (he'd been sworn in, following Nixon's resignation, just two weeks earlier) President. He then passed out our brand new textbooks, and I had the delightful experience of being the first person to crack mine open, luxuriating in the smell of virgin paper and ink. It was going to be a wonderful year, I thought.

That feeling lasted--in this class, anyway--until we wrapped up the unit on the Revolutionary War, and began learning about the Constitution. The final exam on this unit was to be an oral recitation, from memory, in front of the entire class, of the Preamble. Yes, that's the same text that Oprah Winfrey's character recites at the beginning of Selma, and while my right to vote was not hanging on me knowing every word (or being able to name all the circuit court judges in Alabama), my dignity was very much on the line. For some reason, the thought of memorizing and reciting a text in front of my peers filled me with anxiety. The only other childhood experience I can compare it to is the first time I had to jump off the diving board into the deep end of the pool. As on that fearful swimming lesson day, I woke up the morning of the test with my stomach in a knot, a condition that was not to dissipate until I spoke the final words of the preamble, and was able to return to my seat.

A few months later, the eighth grade revisited this experience, as our Civil War unit included reciting, from memory, the Gettysburg Address. This time my terror was compounded by the fact that Mr. LaFordge apparently reversed the alphabet, so that my turn would come toward the end of the class. For an hour, I sat in my desk, my guts twisting tighter and tighter as, one by one, my classmates faltered through the text. It took them so long, in fact, that the bell rang before my turn, forcing me to wait another day before my own quivering but textually flawless delivery.

Mind you, I always enjoyed reading aloud, and had at this point led litanies and read scripture passages in front of my father's congregation many times. It was the memory part that scared me.

That fear burned the words of those two documents into my brain. I can't recite them word for word anymore, but I complete clauses come to mind at the slightest stimulus. For instance, just this morning I saw this quote by Barack Obama, spoken on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights: 
“What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?”
Reading that, my mind immediately flashed to the concluding words of the Gettysburg Address: "we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

I know it's silly to compare my eighth grade recitation stage fright to the horror of those gathered on the battlefield of Gettysburg to commemorate the deaths of more than 9000 young men, killing each other over the very issue that would, a hundred years later, still be haunting this nation; or of the peaceful, unarmed marchers who, a century after that battle, on cresting the Edmund Pettus Bridge, saw the state troops in riot gear awaiting them on the other side. What strikes me about both those events--and about the occasion of my adolescent butterflies--is the theme of division.

The history of this country has, from its founding, been that of divided elements held together by common ideals. The Continental Congress that launched the Revolution was already divided between North and South, slave and free. The new nation almost tore itself apart in the years immediately after the British surrendered, a struggle postponed in the compromises of the Constitution, the Preamble of which was my first US History hurdle. The primary issue that was the catalyst for the Constitution was federalism, the extent to which American states are sovereign, and it has continued to be at the heart of every other issue dividing Americans to this day. The Civil War was fought over whether Southern states should have the right to practice slavery, and as much as Abraham Lincoln may have dreamed that the Union victory would lead to a new birth of freedom, the defeated South continued to treat African-Americans as subhuman for another century. With the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the US government again imposed ideals on the South, and as with the abolition of slavery, those rights had to be enforced by federal troops.

Fifty years later, the racial struggle goes on. It is more nuanced, and has broadened to include persons of Hispanic heritage, but the fight has not been won. Other issues have entered the fray--immigration, gender, sexual identity--but federalism continues to be deeply, organically part of each of them. The question remains: to what extent shall the higher ideals of democracy, of expanding human rights to include all people, be imposed upon people and groups of people who find that expansion distasteful, offensive, repellent? Shall businesses be required to serve customers who are different from their preferred clientele? Shall city and county officials be required to provide marriage services to couples who differ from the norm? Shall school districts and universities be required to educate young people who, because of their parents' decision to live and work in the United States without documentation, are not themselves legal residents of this country? State sovereignty is in the background of every one of these arguments.

So, too, is the patriotism defined by Abraham Lincoln and echoed by Barack Obama: the patriotism that sees what this nation can be, but knows it is not there yet; that can imagine it becoming better than it is; that envisions steady progress toward greater and greater freedoms, rights, respect, compassion, and the full embrace of diversity. When I dream of America, this is what my dream looks like. I had hoped it would be the America of my children, but as our President observed, the American experiment is still unfinished.

There are glimmers of hope. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has just decided to remove discriminatory language from its own constitutional documents, and to begin celebrating same-gender marriages. It accomplished this through attrition: those who opposed the change have, after decades of fighting it, voted with their feet, finally moving to other, more conservative, churches. I don't expect that will be the resolution of our national struggles, at least, not in the sense of conservatives leaving America in search of a more bigoted nation; but in a sense, it is happening that way, as new generations are far more accepting of diversity than those who dominate elections and make (or refuse to make) laws or decide on their constitutionality.

Perhaps, then, my grandchildren will one day, after fighting down their own butterflies, be able to recite the most patriotic words of all, the words of this nation seeing a new birth of freedom, and will note just dream of, know for themselves, a government of all the people, by all the people, and for all the people not just surviving, but thriving in these United States of America.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Total Eclipse of the Voice


I felt the first warning signs at 10:45 yesterday morning: a slight gumminess in my throat, a huskiness in my voice. By 1:30, I was practically inaudible. And I still had to teach a kindergarten class.

I catch a lot of colds. It's one of the less glamorous parts of my profession: teaching music to 500 children, most of whom are infrequent hand washers, I'm exposed to every virus that enters the school. Once I feel one coming on, I can usually tough it out for a day or two, sometimes even a week, but inevitably, just as I think I'm past the worst of it, it moves down into my throat. My cough worsens, deepens, becomes more frequent, and simultaneously, my voice starts to fade. It usually takes longer than yesterday to completely vanish, but then, this cold has been moving more quickly than most through my system. If I'm lucky, my voice will be back before the end of the week, and I'll be back in my classroom wrapping up my hip hop unit.

I teach with my voice. I don't lecture much--apart from the children's short attention spans, I just don't think that's an effective way to teach--but I do need to give them marching orders, transitioning groups from one set of instruments to another, reminding them to let the drums vamp for a few measures before the bass line kicks in, then counting in the rappers. More importantly, I teach songs and melodies by singing them, often in falsetto so the kids can match pitch. When I've got laryngitis, none of that is possible. Even if I was using amplification, it would be hard to understand what I'm saying, and singing would be completely out of the question. And forget about getting a flock of feral kindergartners to sit still for a moment while I explain the rules of the game we're going to play.

So at the end of the school day, when I'd ushered those kinders out the door after struggling to mutely tell their classroom teacher how the high flyers had behaved, I sat down at my computer and requested a sub for today, then organized the room around the likelihood that whoever I got to take my place would prefer to show videos over my other option, a drum circle. Given how my voice is feeling this morning, chances are good I'll do the same for tomorrow. Which really sucks, because I was just reaching the climax of the hip hop unit, where all the elements come together, and I'd promised some fourth graders we'd go back to playing recorders after spring break.

It's possible, by the way, to run an elementary music class without saying or singing a word, and I've done it a few times, communicating everything through mime and demonstration, patting and clapping rhythms, showing movements, counting off with just my fingers. There are Orff teachers who are masters of this technique, and when I'm at my best, I think I manage some semblance of what they do. I did a day like that last year, and some of it went amazingly well. Unfortunately, the classes that didn't go well were disastrous, and I called in sick the next day. I know my students. With spring break coming, they're not in a place to give me the kind of focus necessary for that kind of teaching. So instead, I'm on my couch, resting my voice, writing this.

For an introvert, someone who's frequently pegged with being quiet, I've chosen professions that call on me to have a big voice. Whether preaching or teaching, I have to project to the far corners of whatever room I'm working; and I have to make my voice do things that are foreign to most other speaking professionals. When I'm not wearing either my preaching or teaching hat, I can go for long stretches of time without saying much. One would think that would make a bout of laryngitis something I could just brush off. One would be wrong.

Let's start with the person I share my life with: conversation is one of the things that drew me to Amy in the first place. We had a verbal connection that delighted me from our first contact on the phone. When I've got laryngitis, though, I box myself up, trying to say as little as possible. It's not just that it's hard to understand what I'm saying in my hoarse stage whisper: it actually hurts, especially when I have to repeat myself, struggling to add some volume.

There's another piece to this. On New Year's Day, 1995, my father suffered a stroke that paralyzed one side of his throat. Through physical therapy, he learned how to speak in much the way that a lung cancer patient who's lost vocal chords does, by burping out air rather than breathing it. It took him a lot of effort, and the result was often hard to listen to. A man who'd spent his life preaching and singing now sounded like he had perpetual laryngitis. He worked hard to be heard, and succeeded for the most part, but the effort was audible in everything he said. He even managed to preach an occasional sermon, and to sing along with favorite hymns, though his days of soloing were ended. On the video of our family's traditional rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," taken the day before he died, he can be seen singing some of the words, though you can't hear his voice in the mix.

When I have laryngitis, I sound like Dad. There's no getting around this: all those years of empathically resonating with the frustration he must have felt with his hoarse voice figure into my own efforts to be heard and understood. Whether it's directing a kindergartner to the time out chair, telling my wife what kind of soup I'd like for dinner, or trying to explain how to run my classroom sound system over the phone to my sub, I can't help feeling like Dad. Even though I've been going through this every time I have a cold for my entire life, this poignancy has hit me more and more in the last twenty years as my hair has grayed and thinned and wrinkles have creased my brow, and as my father became frailer and more infirm. When I hoarsely repeat myself for the third time, doing all I can not to let frustration enter into what's left of my voice, I cannot help but feel Dad's struggle, and as it wells up, I grieve a little.

So here I am, sitting by myself at home, no bright little faces around me to cheer me up. I'm going to make the most of this unplanned day off, planting some ground cover in front of our house, cleaning the garage, and, of course, posting this essay. I may entertain myself with some of Sergio Leone's "Man With No Name" trilogy, streaming on HBO. Whatever I do, my primary task will be convalescing my voice, in the hope that it will return to me before the week is over, so I can stop feeling so much like Dad, and more like myself: a man with a voice.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Racially Oblivious

The periodically blown-down and re-erected beach cross at Camp Magruder.

There's nothing like a good picture to start an essay.

When I sit down to write a post for this blog, my first task is finding an image. This helps me stay focused on the thesis for the essay. It also gives the post a good visual hook for the tiny bit of publicity I do on Facebook and Twitter. Finding the right image usually takes just a couple of minutes: if I can't think of any photos I've taken myself, I just go to Google and search a few keywords. I find one that grabs me, copy it to the blog, and I'm off.

There are times, though, when the search for an image alters the focus of the essay. Such was the case today. I knew I wanted to write about a racial incident at United Methodist Camp Magruder in 1996. When I Google "Methodist Camp Magruder," the result of my search was dozens of campers, young and old, splashing in the surf, playing tug of war, riding in canoes, singing arm in arm, listening attentively at devotions, doing all the things I remember so fondly from my own days both as camper and staff member. I felt a rush of nostalgia. And then it hit me: on the entire first page of results, out of nearly 400 images, I counted four that included persons of color. Bear that in mind as I tell this story.

In the summer of 1996, I was 35, pastor of two small churches in Yamhill County, a year and a half into my first divorce, and already engaged to the woman who would be my second wife. One day I took a call from Gerry Hill, a friend, colleague, and mentor, who was going to be dean of Camp 642, a popular high school camp held each August at Magruder. I loved the idea of working with Gerry, especially at one of my favorite places, and agreed immediately. Talking to one of my brothers about what I was going to be doing in August, though, I found myself having misgivings. This camp had a reputation of being dominated by repeat attenders who then became part of the counseling staff, solidifying traditions that were passed on from year to year until they had the force of canon law, and the camp became something of a church-sponsored fraternity. I also learned that, to the younger generation of campers my brothers represented, the camp was known as "Sex-42." It was likely I'd be doing some vigorous chaperoning at this camp, rousting couples out of the many convenient hiding places the coastal foliage provided.

Even so, I looked forward to my week at this magical place. I was, after all, an alumnus of Magruder's other camp fraternity, MADD (Music, Art, Drama, and Dance), the camp for arts nerds that had its own rabid following. 642 started tamely enough: kids arrived Sunday afternoon to be met by their counselors and escorted to their cabins, then join in mixer games that helped introduce new campers to the returnees. I noticed that the counseling staff was heavily packed with veterans of this camp, but didn't think much of it until our first staff meeting, when those veterans nearly took over the agenda, something that was to happen repeatedly that week.

Gerry did his best to transcend the power games, running meetings with patience and empathy, but it wasn't easy. Again and again, his program ideas were shot down by veteran counselors whose goal for this camp was to recreate their own experience as campers. The traditions had to be passed on to the next generation.

One of those traditions was the slave auction. Yes, that's what it was called, and there was plenty of precedent outside of Camp 642 for that moniker. Slave auctions--in which young people volunteer their services for chores and odd jobs in exchange for donations to their organization--had been used by generations of youth groups, Scout troops, cheerleading squads, band boosters, soccer clubs, and countless other benign affinity groups for decades. The 642 slave auction had a record of raising large sums of money from the campers for whatever mission project that year's camp had selected. Usually it went into improving the facilities at Magruder, but it had also been directed to worthwhile mission funds of the United Methodist Church. I can't remember what the beneficiary of this year's auction was, but I do know the sum raised was huge for a camp of teenagers.

So it had been for years: 642 raised a ton of money, and they did it by auctioning off services campers could perform for each other. But this year was different, for two reasons.

The first has to do with the white faces in all those pictures I found in my search. The Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference is an extremely white group of Methodists. Most of this is geography--outside of Portland, there just aren't that many African-Americans in Oregon and Idaho--and the rest is culture. African-American Christians have some ancient (by American standards) worship traditions that don't translate well into white Christian settings, and vice versa. That's the main thing that keeps 11 a.m. on Sunday morning the most segregated hour in America. Be that as it may, United Methodists like to think of themselves as open-minded lovers of diversity, and go to great lengths to reach across perceived racial barriers. In the mid-1990s, one way they did this was sponsoring groups of African-American children to attend a week of camp at Magruder. So in the midst of the 120 white campers were a dozen black kids from inner city Portland.

By itself, that should've raised a red flag for Gerry and me when the veteran counselors talked about their slave auction. I do remember feeling uncomfortable as they did their planning, but I think the sheer power of the veteran bloc on the staff, coupled with the relative youth and inexperience of the two of us as administrators (Gerry was 39, I was 35) kept us from surfacing our misgivings. Which brings me to the second problem with the auction.

At the heart of the veteran bloc was a man not much younger than me who'd been counseling 642 continuously since he met the age requirement. He'd been a camper (of course) in high school, and this camp clearly meant a great deal to him, as (unlike Gerry and me, who, as clergy, were contractually entitled to a week of camp every year) he was giving up a week of vacation to be here. He was also an agnostic, something Gerry found more problematic than I did. And he was the MC for the auction.

The evening of the auction, I was on the margin of the crowd, gathered in the camp meeting hall, and from there I watched, stunned, as the MC took the stage to begin the auction. He was dressed in a white suit, accompanied by several other counselors who were wearing choir robes, and he had covered his face in dark makeup. The shtick he'd chosen for this auction was that it was a prayer meeting, with the other counselors functioning as a gospel choir.

About ten minutes into the auction, I realized there was not an African-American face in the crowd.

I stayed until the end, growing more and more uncomfortable. As I said, a great deal of money was raised for the mission project, but that was soon to be dwarfed by the fallout: one of the African-American campers who had walked out had gone directly to the camp pay phone and called his parents to tell them what was happening. Gerry and I had a racial incident on our hands.

The following afternoon, a delegation of parents arrived to meet with us and the counselor who had been the MC. They were furious. How could we let something like this happen? Why would we bring their children all the way out here to expose them to such ridicule, to a program that not only made light of slavery but did it in the context of a black-face parody of their worship tradition? At one point, I offered up the possibility that this came out of ignorance, that many of our counselors came from small towns in the Northwest that had homogeneous white populations. I said that I had not had any black acquaintances, not to mention friends, prior to being an adult, and still had not known very many. "Weren't you ever in the service?" he asked. "No," I said, shaking my head and, for perhaps the only time in my adult life, regretting that fact.

It was an incredibly tense meeting, one of the most difficult I've ever been part of. By the end, we managed to change these parents' minds about taking their children home with them, assuring them that this had become a teaching moment, and that their continued presence at Camp 642 was an opportunity to heal wounds, open minds, and help everyone at the camp, regardless of color or age, to grow. The following year, Gerry cleaned house, purging the camp staff of several counselors, cracking down on many of the least helpful traditions, but it was still a hard week, culminating in an incident of alcohol poisoning. The auction, in particular, was gone: campers just handed over their mission money at the beginning of camp, with no need for an elaborate production. The year after that, there were new deans, four of them, drawn from the least compromised counselors: Gerry had had his fill, and was spending his camp week as a counselor at Sawtooth. I came in as chaplain, but was dealing with my own issues, as my second marriage was already coming apart. It was my last gig as camp staff. I was burned out on all things church-related, and knew this even as I sought to inspire these young people with my meditations.

I can't know what lessons others took from that hard week at Magruder. I can only speak for myself. I learned that sometimes the most hurtful things are said and done obliviously, by people who have the best intentions, and are sincerely trying to do the right thing. I've been on the receiving end of such well-meaning ineptitude, and while knowing these things are done or said in ignorance doesn't lessen the blow of the words or actions, it does make it far easier for me to excuse the perpetrator. It's also sensitized me to pre-screen my own word choices when I'm coming into a potentially explosive situation, something that happens on a daily basis at the inner-city school where I teach.

The best lesson I can offer from this story is simply this: if you, like me, grew up in a mono-culture, surrounded by people who look and talk and think like you, then don't be surprised if you find yourself called on the carpet for saying or doing something that a person of color finds offensive. And when that happens, lay aside enough notion of defending yourself. Instead, listen. Learn all you can. And the next time you're in a similar situation, do things differently.

One more thing, and then I'm done: if all your friends and neighbors look just like you, it's time to find new friends and neighbors.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Boy Girl Boy Girl


I wish it was as simple as that.

The alternating gender seating arrangement probably dates back to the earliest days of coeducational primary schools. It exploits the developmental tendency of young children to prefer playmates and conversation partners of their own gender and, frequently, to be repelled to some degree by children of the other gender. Separate Dina from Denise, and put Dina next to Dean and Denise next to Dennis, and you break up two sources of classroom disruption. Standardize the arrangement across the classroom, and when it's time for students to listen to the teacher, there should be no auditory distractions at all.

In an ideal social matrix, with all boys alike and all girls alike, all problems of classroom management could be solved by this simple tool. But as I implied in the opening sentence, it's not that simple, for a lot of reasons.

First and foremost, the same-gender preference of children is a tendency, not a given. At every age, there are children whose friendships leap the gender barrier. My favorite playmate when I was in the first and second grades was a neighbor girl, and as both a parent and a teacher, I've seen many cross-gender friendships that are exceptions to the same-gender rule.

Then there's the bullying factor. Pudgy nerd that I was, I discovered in the first grade that girls were nicer to me than boys, and I chose my playmates accordingly. By the time I got to junior high, things got more complicated, but I could still say, even then, that almost all the mistreatment I experienced was at the hands of other boys. As a teacher, I've witnessed the same dynamic at play among girls: bullying is almost always a same-gender thing. When I see a kindergartner crying over someone telling him or her "I'm not your friend!" it's almost always a child of the same gender whose hurting his or her feelings, something that continues all the way into adolescence. When all a boy's tormentors are other boys, he's going to like talking to sympathetic girls, something that cuts both ways.

Socializers add another factor to this equation. Every class I teach--there are nineteen of them in my current assignment--has children who will chat unceasingly with anyone they're next to. If I'm lucky, there are only one or two, but I've got a few classes where there are a good half dozen of these overly gregarious students. Alternating gender seating is worthless in these cases. Keeping them apart from each other is essential, but in the mobile environs of the music room, a losing battle. Yesterday the noise of the conversation generated by three of these children managing to drift together during a transition drowned out the music being made by the other twenty.

Don't forget puberty, which is coming earlier in children's development. I have fourth grade students who look like and act like sixth graders: tall, developed, and showing off not just for their same-gender cohorts any more, but clearly to impress the other gender in the room. The hormones are in full bloom by fifth grade, and with them, the first powerful resistance to adult authority. No seating arrangement can eliminate this dynamic.

It's enough to make me long for the days when my biggest discipline issue was getting boys and girls to folk dance together without anyone saying "Ewwwww!"

So what do I do? I use school-wide incentive programs: thank you tickets, behavior plan clipboards, referrals. I create my own incentives for the class: children who are quiet have first choice of instruments, are my first picks to run the playtime clock which is, itself, a competitive incentive (first class to reach 100 minutes of real playing time gets a "choice day"). I pare down my lessons so there's as little lecturing and as much activity as possible. I tailor my content to student preferences (I'm doing a hip hop unit. Yes, you read that right: a hip hop unit.). I go out of my way to engage students outside of class time, getting to know them better.

A lot of these things are techniques I should be using anyway, and there's no question that teaching is more fun when the students are fully invested in the lesson. But even with all these things in place, I have classes that leave me shell-shocked at how bad a few naughty children can make things for the rest of the group, not to mention for me.

These may seem like a lot of hand-wringing over the state of education, but in fact, most of what I'm writing about has been around since the dawn of time. What's different now is that we don't beat naughty children anymore. It's not that they don't get spanked--the fear in children's eyes when I tell them I'm going to have to call home tells me there's still plenty of that going on, just not at school--but that our focus as educators has shifted to nurture. Our goal is to help the child learn to overcome whatever obstacle is causing the misbehavior. We don't always succeed, but considering the alternative--punishing children into suppressing the pain they're experiencing at home, and pretending everything's fine just so we can do our jobs more easily--I'd much rather be teaching now than fifty years ago, when you probably could've heard a pin drop in the music room (and it's carpeted!).

I'm writing this from home (something I ate last night really didn't agree with me), but still getting school emails as I write. I just had one from the school registrar letting staff members know there's a restraining order barring a father from any contact with his two sons who are in the first and second grades at Scott. These boys have frequently been difficult in the music room, impulsively grabbing and playing instruments without permission, talking when they're supposed to be listening, and engaging in other disruptive behaviors. I've done what I could to remind them, again and again, of the classroom expectations, but like many high flyers, they've got short memories when it comes to rules. Today is the first I've heard about family trauma. I know that many of the high flyers at my school are homeless, have a parent in prison, live in a foster home, are experiencing a difficult divorce, are abused, neglected, or witness substance abuse at home. I have to wonder how many of the other children disrupting my classroom have sad home lives I just don't know about.

This is why teaching is so much more than a job, or even a vocation: it's a mission. Yes, we're primarily here to teach content and skills. Much more than that, though, we create a learning community that is safe and nurturing, helping children see that anger and abuse are not the only ways to respond to challenges.

Some of the biggest hugs I get are from the children I most often have to remind of my classroom rules. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Kid Scrip

A thank you ticket.

It took me a long time to warm up to the concept of the thank you ticket.

Thank you tickets are a PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) approach to school discipline: find a child acting appropriately in a given situation, and write and present him or her with a ticket in as public a manner as possible: "Thank you, Tina, for walking so quietly down the hall!" "Thank you, TreSean, for sitting so quietly in the circle while I pass out instruments!" Other children see the presentation of the ticket and quickly respond by imitating the rewarded behavior. Handing out another ticket or two should, according to the theory, get an entire class quieted, and any lingering disrupters--instigators for whom the personal rewards of misbehavior outweigh any benefit of getting a ticket--can be more easily addressed by the teacher. And why, you may ask, should the tickets be a reward? For some children, the ticket all by itself is reward enough, though these are usually the children who don't need such tokens to manage their impulses. For the rest, the tickets are a kind of scrip that can be used several times a year in the "student store": a flea market of tchotchkes and teacher-donated items that can be purchased with thank you tickets.

My reluctance to buy into this system (and yes, I use "buy in" intentionally) originates in my preference for intrinsic motivational techniques. Ideally, the subject matter I'm teaching should be motivation enough to keep kids in line: those who behave while I'm demonstrating get first choice of instruments when it's time to play. Unfortunately, every class has a few children who genuinely don't like being in music, prefer the negative attention of referrals and glares from other students, or simply can't control their fidgety impulsive bodies without an additional layer of extrinsic motivation. They have to be bought off. And for these children, the thank you tickets work wonders. In fact, the most effective way to use the tickets is to catch a high flyer doing something right and reward that child on the spot with a ticket.

That's where I've finally accepted the necessity of using this motivational gimmick: handing out these slips gives me the extra minute of full-class attention I need to get the class started on a lesson. Once I've communicated the basic introductory information, it's much easier to manage children's behavior by moving them from one station to another, separating troublesome clumps of socializers, all the basic classroom techniques one learns in Education 101.

In the last week, though, a troublesome situation has arisen at Margaret Scott Elementary School: children are stealing thank you tickets off teacher desks and from the work room and, apparently, operating a sort of underground economy with them. It remains to be seen how they'll use these tickets, since to be accepted at the student store, tickets have to be vetted by classroom teachers, and every ticket must have a staff member's signature to be valid. Perhaps some more enterprising child has been practicing forgery. More likely, whoever's been stealing the tickets just hasn't thought it through. The first staff member to report the problem was a second grade teacher, and of all the age levels in an elementary school, I've found second grade to be simultaneously the most most ethically experimental and harshly judgmental. They're at the awkward stage of outgrowing baby cuteness and not quite having tweener smarts yet. Second grade boys, in particular, can be aggressive, impulsive, and reckless.

The irony of this situation is a reminder to me of the problem inherent in extrinsic motivation: when we buy good behavior with a reward, we make morality transactional, and any system of buying and selling is subject to the morality of the free market. Rather than teach children the right way to act in school, it becomes a resource to be exploited by the very children who most need to learn how to act. As with any resource, it's just a matter of time until enterprise trumps morality, dishonesty creeps into the system, and security measures have to be taken. Staff signatures will be double checked, thank you tickets locked away when the teacher's out of the room. At some point, the perpetrators will find their ingenuity resulting in some kind of punishment.

There's a terrible poignancy at play here, as well: many of these children live in poverty. Scott is a Title I school, and if I still had any college loans, I could have them forgiven for teaching here. The used toys and books that will stock the student store when it next opens in a week are nothing fancy, but they're more than these kids can afford even at the thrift store. Add to this the tragedy of a child who wants nothing more than to be praised--even if the token of praise is a ticket stolen from the teacher's desk or, even worse (and I've seen this happen in my classroom), from another child who actually earned the praise. They're not making the connection yet between good behavior and praise; they just know those tickets are a tangible sign of praise, something that can be proudly shown off at home.

There's one more issue I want to raise here: restorative justice. We've been hearing a lot about this new approach to discipline lately, though as far as I know, no one in my school has yet received the training necessary to implement it. The research appears to be sound, though: children who are suspended from school for being disruptive get into a downward spiral that, once they leave school (often by dropping out), disproportionately lands them in prison. It's best to keep them in the building, ideally in the classroom, though I don't believe my school currently has enough support personal to make that possible without giving up a good deal of instructional time. The irony of the school-prison connection is that engaging in petty larceny with thank you tickets comes uncomfortably close to dealing in cigarettes. Some of these children are already acting like they're in jail, dealing in the very tokens that are supposed to be teaching them how not to end up there.

For my part, I'll keep handing out thank you tickets, though I'm going to start stamping them with the Chinese "An" symbol that is my family's coat of arms. It's not just that it symbolizes the tranquility I seek for myself and my students; it's also a hell of a lot harder to forge than my messy initials.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Patron Saint of Nerds



I was seven when I first saw Spock.

My family was visiting my grandfather in Seattle. For some reason--probably because it was summertime--I was up later than usual. The TV was on, and I saw a few minutes of a Star Trek episode, "Tomorrow Is Yesterday." It's the episode in which the Enterprise is hurled back in time by some kind of anomaly, resulting in an Air Force pilot being beamed aboard to save his life when a tractor beam causes his jet to come apart. I saw him materialize in the transporter room where his first sight was of Spock. And that's it: I didn't see another episode until the show hit syndication in 1970. But the image of the pointy-eared Vulcan, so different from every other member of the cast, yet clearly part of the crew, let me know this was not just any science fiction show: it featured diversity at its core.

And that's what I found to be true as I hurried home from school each day to watch what quickly became my favorite piece of pop culture. In the years to come, I would watch and rewatch Star Trek so many times that, even tuning in halfway through an episode, I could identify it within seconds. Star Trek showed me a future in which people like me--misfits, eggheads, nerds--came together as a crew that cared about each other and worked together to solve problems. They were united by their passion for exploration, and even though their technology seemed advanced to some of the alien cultures they encountered, more often they found themselves humbled by contact with far more advanced civilizations. Through it all, the fundamental principles of Star Trek were grounded in humanism: seeking knowledge for its own sake, promoting values of equality and cooperation, finding the good in others.

And at the heart of it all was Spock.

When I first began watching, Captain Kirk was my favorite character. He was a man of action, but also of ethics, always trying to do the right thing for his crew and for the alien cultures he encountered. As time went by, though, I found myself, like so many other fans, becoming more and more attached to Spock. Like all Vulcans, Spock was devoted to logic; unlike most, his hybrid heritage--his mother was human--gave him the challenge of reining in his emotions. To be logical was not a necessity, but a choice. It was clearly a struggle for him, and as explained by his mother in "Journey to Babel," it made him an outcast among his own people, so that his only true home was Starfleet.

I, too, was a misfit among my own people. Growing up in Idaho, I felt marginalized by my religious identity: surrounded by Mormons, I was the child of the Methodist minister. I was also overweight, non-athletic, and wore thick glasses. Entering junior high--the time in my life when Star Trek most mattered to me--I was ridiculed by my peers, the subject of cruel jokes and bullying. It didn't help me at all that I was a favorite of many of my teachers--I might as well have worn a bulls eye to school--and that my father was himself quite a nerd, not to mention a pacifist in a land of right-wing gun enthusiasts.

So I gravitated to Spock. Here was a character who, as much as his personality and alien habits might conflict with the rest of the mostly-human crew, was respected, honored, and treated even with affection by his peers. In "Mirror, Mirror," when the Spock of the militarized parallel universe is nearly killed with a skull-crushing blow by the Enterprise officers, Dr. McCoy insists on saving him because, as Kirk acknowledges, "He is very like our Mr. Spock, isn't he?" Spock's ethics are grounded in logic, his spirituality is far more akin to Zen than theism, his advice and commands can often seem cold, and yet he often acts with compassion.

I wasn't just attracted to Spock. In many ways, I wanted to be Spock. I wanted my peers to acknowledge and value my gifts, to tap into my knowledge and skills, to treat me as indispensable. Even in college, where I finally became part of a group of friends whose closeness resembled that of the Enterprise crew, those many years of rejection left me insecure about their feelings for me. And when that time ended and our fellowship was broken, casting me back out into the harsh world of nerd rejection, there were many times I was tempted to, like Spock in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, purge myself of emotions, choosing a path of pure logic. Of course, Spock in the end rejects that path, returns to Starfleet, and finally makes peace with his two natures--though it takes him until middle age (and a literal death and resurrection) to arrive at that tranquility. Like Spock, I, too, have found, in middle age, that I am finally at peace with my personality, my identity, my upbringing, all the aspects of my life that had me in turmoil. I am content now to just be myself.

Watching Leonard Nimoy's portrayal of Spock evolve over the decades was like giving myself a pop culture road map to my own development as an adult. Knowing, too, that the actor had wrestled for so many years at being identified with this one character, that he was most loved when wearing a ridiculous pair of prosthetic ears, but that, in time, he came to accept and even embrace this role, made the character that much more real to me.

I know I'm not alone when I say that Spock was my patron saint through adolescence. More than any other fictional character, he pulled me through the hardest time of my life. That I survived and, much more than that, thrived is, to a significant extent, his doing.

Leonard Nimoy died last Friday. There have been many deaths in my life in the last year, many members of my father's generation (including, two months ago, my father) who have passed from this world. I know this is a natural thing for a man of my years, and that it has always been this way, the senior generation handing off its responsibilities to the middle agers who are their children. But it is a hard thing to watch the icons of one's youth depart. That they lived well is some comfort, and also an example for what my remaining years can be like.

Goodbye and godspeed, Leonard. While you will not again portray the Vulcan science officer who did so much to rescue me from adolescent misery, I know that he will continue to live long and prosper in the hearts of countless misfits.