Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Buzzy Cohen

Buzzy Cohen’s winning streak on Jeopardy! was interrupted first by the Teacher’s Tournament and then by Power Players week, and I was happy to see him back on Monday night. I like Buzzy. I like his appearance—tall, slim, dark hair, captivating smile, and round glasses, which give him a cartoonish appearance, like a character my youngest son would draw. I like Buzzy’s persona—intelligent, witty, charming, and bold in teasing Alex Trebek. Buzzy works in the music industry in Los Angeles.

A week of Buzzy's smiles
As faithful Jeopardy! watchers know, after the first commercial break Alex chats with the contestants. After five days of chatting with Buzzy, Alex finally got around to asking him about his real name. It turns out Buzzy is Austin, so named because his parents liked to watch the Six Million Dollar Man. Buzzy’s sister is Lindsey, because they also liked to watch the Bionic Woman.

But it was the way Alex asked that stunned me and had me yelling at the TV. (Actually, I yell at the TV a lot during Jeopardy! I yell the answers.) But Monday I yelled because Alex said to Buzzy, “Surely you weren’t christened with that name.” I was amazed by Alex’s gaffe.

I discussed this with my Cults & World Religion students today (because they are a captive audience) but the youngsters were clueless as to just what I was so passionately reacting to. So I asked them if they knew what “christen” means. Someone mentioned champagne and a yacht, while a few others thought it might have something to do with a baby dedication. So I explained “christen” pretty much the same way www.dictionary.com does, emphasizing the first two definitions:

verb (used with object)
I'm a Baptist. We wait until they're much older
and then hold them under water until they bubble.
to receive into the Christian church by baptism; baptize.
to give a name to at baptism:
They christened her Mary.
to name and dedicate:
to christen a ship.
to make use of for the first time.

The students still didn’t understand my reaction, so I explained, “I can’t believe Alex Trebek asked a Jewish man about his christening.” 

And my students said, “How do you know he is Jewish?”

How do I know a man named Cohen is Jewish? 

I proceeded to tell them pretty much everybody named Cohen is Jewish, and possibly even descended from the Levitical priesthood. I couldn’t believe they didn’t know the first part of the previous sentence. (I would have been stunned had they known the second.)

But then I remembered how mystified I used to be when my mother would tell me the ethnicity or nationality of a person just by his or her last name. I would mention a kid at school and she would say he was Italian or Polish or Jewish. How did she know all the Levines were Jewish? 

Then as I grew into adulthood, I developed the same mysterious gift. In college, I knew the Ferrara boy I dated for a few months was of Italian heritage without anyone telling me. The Reinertsen boy? Some kind of Scandinavian. The Brosius boy? I couldn't figure that out, but I married him.

May the odds be ever in your favor.
May you surpass Ken Jennings.
So I realized I must give my students a break and appreciate, maybe even celebrate, their youthful naïveté. 

As for Buzzy Cohen, I was relieved to celebrate another victory with him. I have a tender spot in my heart for Cohens.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

All I Really Need to Know about Prayer I Learned from Snyder’s of Hanover*

            There are many possible and permissible prayer postures and positions. The Bible depicts people standing, kneeling, and flat on their faces. Bowed heads, closed eyes, and folded hands seem important to us nowadays. Some families hold hands for table grace; whether to display love and unity or to keep young Petey from flinging mashed potatoes at sister Patty, I don’t know.

Prayer Braid
            At our prayer retreat a few weeks ago, we learned we could pray while walking a labyrinth (or anywhere), coloring, or kneading clay. I found the braiding prayer most meaningful. While intertwining three varied strips of cloth, I prayed for myself, my husband, our relationship with each other, and our relationship with God together. Ironically, the God cloth turned out to be shorter than the husband and wife cloths, so at the bottom of a strong braid, two untethered fabrics were left hanging, disconnected from each other and the center. 

            Most of my praying currently takes place in a Purple PT Cruiser in between home and school five mornings a week. Don’t worry—I keep my eyes open and my hands on the steering wheel. And if you’re my student or my coworker, you’ve got to be relieved that I’ve had both prayer and coffee before arriving at school. I could be much, much worse.

            But this morning in Sunday School, after we shared concerns and the pastor said, “Let’s pray,” my hands and arms formed the pretzel position, perhaps because I was chilly. I’d heard that pretzels were shaped that way to teach children what to do with their hands while praying. The History Channel website includes that legend and explains more:

Though the exact origins of the pretzel remain mysterious, legend has it that the story began around A.D. 610, when Italian monks presented their young students with treats of baked dough twisted in the shape of crossed arms. At the time, crossing one’s arms was the traditional posture for prayer. [It was chilly in those stone monasteries, too!] As the custom spread through medieval Europe, the pretzel’s three holes came to represent the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and the twisty baked good became associated with good luck, long life and prosperity. (http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/the-pretzel-a-twisted-history)
            I like the Trinity connection, but admit to skepticism about good luck, long life, and prosperity. From a pretzel? Maybe a chocolate dipped pretzel. Not that I’d turn down good luck, long life, and prosperity. Or a chocolate dipped pretzel.

A product of my adopted state
            The History Channel article also reveals that German immigrants brought pretzels to Pennsylvania in 1710, and today my adopted state** produces eighty percent of made-in-the-U.S.A. pretzels. One of the more than sixty pretzel makers in Pennsylvania is Snyder’s of Hanover, founded in 1909. 

            Theirs was the first name that came to mind this morning when I realized I was praying like a pretzel. So they get some free advertising, and hopefully they’re not offended by prayer and they’re not going to report my blog to the ACLU. (Although, any publicity is good publicity.)

            After my overly lengthy introduction, I will now tell you what I realized while praying like a pretzel this morning: 

 Prayer is like a warm hug from God. 

* First, let me acknowledge the founder of the All I Really Need to Know format, Robert Fulghum, who learned it all in Kindergarten.

* Secondly, in addition to Snyder’s of Hanover, I have learned much about prayer from Mr. Roberts, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, church, and several books. Most recently, I studied the Red Letter Prayer Life by Bob Hostetler with a small group of church friends, and I highly recommend it.

**My native state produces one hundred percent of all the Shriver's Salt Water Taffy made in the U.S.A. I highly recommend it, too. 
A product of my native state