Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

12 May 2007

Old Fartdom

Break out the bran muffins and the prune juice! Brother Lawrence turned 50 today. That's right, half a century of using up oxygen and shedding dead skin cells.

It all began on 12 May 1957 at 12:40 AM, when a 5 lb. 9 oz., 19-inch long bundle of joy was pushed out of his warm, comfy surroundings into the world of a small Kansas town with the help of a certain Dr. A.W. Beahm (thanks to my Mom for the details). It was a Sunday—Mother's Day, in fact. His parents were undoubtedly relieved to hear that he was completely healthy. About a year earlier, they had suffered through the heartbreaking loss of his older sister at the age of only three months from a congenital heart defect. His older brother was only three years old; he did not fully comprehend how his life would be affected by the new addition to the family. He would get a little sister two years later and a little brother five year after that.

His first memories are from about the age of four. He was a shy kid, a trait that he has retained all his life. Growing up in a very small town (population 160) basically meant that you had to get along with all the kids because there weren't enough of them to choose among. There was no movie theater or arcade in town, but lots of trees to climb, dirt to play in, some abandoned buildings to explore and railroad tracks on which to place pennies. Kids played baseball during the spring and summer, football in the fall, and built snow forts and sledding ramps in the winter.

Although playing sports was almost mandatory (see above), he was always more of a bookish sort. When he was old enough to read, he loved paging through the children's encyclopedia that his parents had bought, and later through the World Book Encyclopedia. He took an early interest in science—he wanted to know what made things work. One of his favorite Christmas gifts of all time was a junior chemistry set, with which he nearly set the house afire a couple of times. He also took an early interest in girls, having picked out his future wife by the fourth grade.

High school was a blur of teen angst, social awkwardness, uncertainty about the future, risky behaviors, the shattering of some of his youthful naivete and attempts to understand his place in the world. Somewhere along the line, he began to think about becoming a religious brother. At first he struggled against the idea, but eventually could resist it no longer.

It was in high school that he first felt a desire to see Europe, an exotic place where people drove on the wrong side of the road, bathed infrequently and drank lots of wine and beer. An opportunity presented itself the summer between his junior and senior year to go on a school-sponsored "Foreign Study League" tour, but his family could not afford it. He grumbled that he would never, ever get another chance to see Europe, which is rather humorous in retrospect.

And here I am today, fifty years after it began. In some ways, I still feel as shy and curious as that four-year old kid. I have enjoyed my fifty trips around the sun, and look forward to many more. There are more places I want to discover, more people I want to meet and more experiences I want to have. Thanks Mom and Dad. And thanks Dr. Beahm.

03 May 2007

Brother gets culture

I eagerly accepted an invitation from one of the brothers of the monastery I am presently visiting to attend a lecture by the obscure Russian Islamic philosopher, Warid el Yakimovich. Actually, it turned out to be a Weird Al Yankovic concert. Oh well, when life gives you lemons....

This was the opening concert of his new American tour, promoting his recently-released album, Straight Outta Lynwood. The new album proves that Weird Al is in no danger of losing his title as King of the Song Send-up. "White and Nerdy" was hilarious, from the moment he entered the stage on his Segway. "You're Pitiful" had me giggling like a ten year-old on nitrous oxide. Of course, no Weird Al concert would be complete without his signature medley of popular rock and rap tunes set to a polka beat and expertly played on the accordion by Weird Al himself.

While the new songs were great, I was really waiting to hear some of my old favorites, and Weird Al did not disappoint. While the old Michael Jackson parodies, "Eat It" and "I'm Fat", have lost some of their luster, other classics, such as "Smells Like Nirvana" and "Amish Paradise" have not. The two Star Wars-themed songs, "Yoda" (to the tune of Lola) and "The Saga Begins", were crowd favorites. His encore included the unreleased (for good reasons) "Everyone Has a Cell Phone" and a song from his Running With Scissors album, "Albuquerque".

The concert made good use of video, although there were some technical problems with it in the early part of the concert. Certain songs were enhanced with scenes from his music videos. Between numbers, there were mock interviews with musical celebrities, such as Mariah Carey, Madonna, Keith Richards and Kevin Federline. This latter was especially unmerciful.

All in all, it was classic Weird Al. I highly recommend seeing this concert. By the way, there were a lot of young kids at the concert. I doubt they will understand the humor, but the show is family-friendly. The only vulgur words used were during the celebrity interviews, and those were bleeped.