Friday, May 27, 2011

Etiquette Versus Tolerance

This morning I attended a funeral for a dear man in my church, George Darby. George always greeted me with a big bear hug and always remembered my name, even though I only managed to get to services about once every three months or so. He was a drummer, a husband, a father, a quilter (I just found out today -- that rocks!), and a man of joy and happiness, but despite that happiness, I donned a conservative black dress and went to pay my respects.

I didn't actually count, but I'd say less than ten percent of the attendees were in black or gray. That doesn't really bother me, because like I said, George was joyous, colorful and unconventional. He would at times wear an African robe and skull cap (crown) to church. So looking mournful was, in my opinion, optional at this funeral.

But the people wearing jeans and ratty t-shirts got my attention. So did the three or four men wearing hats who didn't even take them off during the prayers. Several women were in flip-flops. At least twice, despite a very clear announcement to silence them, cell phones rang.

I was livid, judgmental and bitter. I smiled at the parents whose children were properly dressed, and scowled at the parents whose kids looked like they'd just rolled out of bed.

I grew up on the East Coast, where if you're less than fifteen minutes early, you're late. Now I live in New Mexico, where if you show up five minutes before the end, you're on time. I grew up right at the end of the era when people used to dress up finely to get on an airplane. We stood up during the National Anthem, even if it was only playing on television (I still do this, even when I'm alone). I'm glad my parents raised me with this sense of etiquette and respect. It has served me in many other ways and I like the way I am.

But the more Pastor Si talked about George, and the more I heard from his friends and family about how loving he was, and how happily he met life, the more I began to soften and question my qualification to judge the other mourners with whom I sat.

The God I believe in is a "come as you are" kind of god. We don't have to pretty ourselves up and get right before we can approach Him. I believe he welcomes all of us into heaven (yes, even that guy) because whatever we have done in life, or whatever reasons we have for rejecting what He offers us, He knows the reasons behind it all. He knows the pain that causes our doubts. He knows how we were raised and what we were and weren't taught.

Times change, cultures shift, and fashions adapt. Which is more likely: that 90 percent of the people in that chapel were being offensive and disrespectful, or that one woman was wrong for judging how much they cared or respected George based on their outward appearances?

I am not God, and I don't know the heart of anyone in the chapel today. I don't know if the man sitting next to me had just one hour to spare to come to the funeral from his job at a construction site, and thus had no choice but to wear jeans.
A family member was wearing a Jimi Hendrix hat in George's honor - should I reprimand that person because it's always wrong to wear a hat in a religious service? There were a couple of "Harley guys" who played in a band with George, and I see now that they were wearing the clothes they always wore when they were with him -- the clothes they always wear because that's who they always are.

What a joy, and what a feeling of freedom, that we can be who we are, and how we are, not only before God, but with our friends and families.

When it is time for my funeral, you can wear whatever you want. The important thing is that you are there, because you were important to me.

But turn off your cell phone.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tips to Make You Better at Scrabble

I love Scrabble, like a lot of people, and I've been playing it most of my life. I'm also pretty good with words, so I win a lot. The only people I've played with who really gave me a run for my money are my best friend who now lives two hours away, and the Scrabble buddy I met via Craigslist, who turned out to be a serial rapist. Oops! (He didn't do anything to me except beat me in Scrabble, by the way.) So in the interest of building your confidence and getting you to play with me, I decided to write some encouragement.

There are some people among my family and friends who think they stink at Scrabble or that they don't have a chance at winning because they think it's all about just being smart, or knowing lots of words, or the luck of the draw. But there are some specific things that everyone has access to. More than my level of intelligence or ability to spell, these are the things that help me win, and they will help you too:

1. Save your blanks.

If you draw a blank, don't just use it to make a decent word. Save it to make a bingo (a bingo is when you use all of your tiles in one play). Save it for two or three turns, or even more. Don't think of a bingo as something that just happens if you're lucky enough to get the right letters. Try to plan for it.

2. Try to make two words at once (or more).

One way to do this is to use an S - which you should also save for this purpose - to make two words, one vertical and one horizontal.

You can also make words parallel to each other, as long as each pair of adjoining letters forms a word. This technique can really multiply your score.

3. Get to know the two-letter-word list.

If you are using a regular dictionary or the official Scrabble-players' dictionary, there are several two-letter words, many obscure that you've probably never used. If you memorize these, you can use them to make multiple words in one play, placing words right next to each other, parallel to each other on the board. This is also a good way to dump a bunch of vowels. Did you know that AA, AI, and OE are acceptable Scrabble words?

4. Watch for word-lengthening combinations such as -ED, -ING, -ION, etc.

These will help you get a bigger score and up your chances of using all your tiles for one play.

5. Take your time.

Don't play right when you find a possible word. Take your time and find the best word you can make.

My mother and I used to have Scrabble games that would last for three days; we'd get up between turns to live life, leaving the board set up, and return to the game as we were able (note: not advised if your home contains a cat).

6. Pay attention to those premium squares.

If you have decent tiles and can make several words, try to make words that allow you to play your high-scoring letters on the double-letter or triple-letter squares.

If you are using an S or other letter to make two words, one vertically and one horizontally, it really adds up if you can find a premium square to place that adjoining letter on.

7. Try not to set up your opponent.

Even if you have a word that could earn you 20 points, it might not be worth it if you set up a great play for your opponent, such as giving them a place to use a triple-word premium square.

8. If you get a U, and the Q hasn't been played yet, save it.

If you use your U for a mediocre word, and then get stuck with the Q, you'll be sorry, especially if the game ends and you still have that Q, because your opponent gets the points from the tiles you couldn't use, and the Q is worth 10 points.

There are some words that can be spelled with a Q without a U, such as QAID and QOPH. It's worth memorizing these too, along with the two-letter word list.

9. Don't be afraid to challenge.

When your opponent plays a word that looks unfamiliar to you, especially if your opponent is a seasoned player or likely to be full of bull, don't be afraid to challenge the play. If you are wrong, you lose a turn, but remember that playing a completely made-up word is legal, and if it's not challenged, the points count. Watch for a "tell," just like in poker...and develop your own poker face so you can try it too, when you dare!

10. Practice!

Play online, via Facebook, with friends, on your smartphone, and anywhere else you can. You'll learn new words playing with different people, and it will sharpen your brain, not just for the game, but for life!