Or, Much Ado About Nothing!
I got exactly one complaint about a story in the 6 July 2003 issue. Let’s start with the story, and then the complaint:
Remington is introducing its Bikini Trim and Shape electric razor in the U.K. The razor, which was previously introduced to the U.S. market, is specifically designed for women to use to shape their pubic hair. According to the company, their market research found that 79 percent of women shaved off part or all of their pubes, and 36 percent trimmed their hair into a specific design, such as a heart or their partner’s initial. (PA) …In block letters, or Braille?
That one complaint came from Jeff, a Youth Pastor at a First Baptist church in Washington:
I am totally offended by this article. What purpose does it serve? I subscribed to your newsletter under the belief that you were a Christian organization sharing bizarre but true stories. I have occasionally used a story as an illustration during a youth lesson and directed my students to your web site. I am now shocked and embarrassed by what I have directed teenagers to. These teenagers trust me and look to me for spiritual guidance, not for stories concerning peoples private body parts. Church leaders are in a constant battle with the internet and entertainment industry for the attention of the people God has put in our care. When I find something enlightening and uplifting to pass on to my students I do so hoping it may direct them away from some of the negative influences of this world not to articles about pubic hair. I hope I never see another article like this in your newsletter.
After I stopped rolling around the floor laughing like a maniac, I researched Jeff’s subscription: when he wrote, he had been a subscriber for more than four months, so he should have been quite well versed in what True is about — weird-but-true news items. (Duh!) Frankly, I think the concept of women shaving their lover’s initials into their crotch is reasonably weird, especially since “R” (my initial) would be pretty hard to do well. Anyway, how could someone read True for more than four months and not understand that “ThisisTrue.Inc” isn’t a Christian missionary organization?! In his very first issue, the headline of the week was “Whoopee? Oopsie! Honk If the Dealership Used Your Car for Sex”! Since then, the stories in the free edition have included:
- High School staff says principal threatened to kill them, broadcasted gospel music and sermons from his office, claimed the school was possessed by demons, bragged of having a weapons cache and threatened suicide.
- A story about a new coffee house in Alabama called “Bad Ass Coffee Shop” that caused outrage over its name. Many reader letters followed about that, as well as another story in the same issue about a restaurant called “C.O. Jones” (cojones — get it? If not, their slogan “Ballsy Mexican cuisine” ought to help), whose owner called the name “a great marketing tool.”
- 15-year-old patient hires a prostitute to visit him in the ward of a children’s hospital. (Oh yeah, that’s an uplifting, churchy item!)
- Southwest Airlines fires flight crew for making flight “out of uniform” (if you know what I mean — nudge-nudge, wink-wink!)
- And …well, you get the idea. Not to mention various letters from readers about my Get Out of Hell Free cards, stickers and t-shirts, which some fundamental Christians have condemned as “anti-Christian” (and others have embraced with wide grins, from Free Methodist ministers to priests at the Vatican).
Naturally, there were scores of other, less controversial stories during that time. In short, True covers the full gamut of human weirdness, including sex. So how in the world could a youth pastor think that True is a church publication? Because he doesn’t read it. He’s going around telling his teens (who, he may be shocked to learn, also have “private body parts” and, I’m sure, many of whom shave unwanted hair) that this is a great publication. And you know what? It is! That’s why many hundreds of priests, ministers, preachers and other men (and women) of the cloth subscribe, including many to the expanded Premium edition. They get to stay in touch with what regular people are doing out in The World, and they get real life examples of lessons learned (or not!) to use in their sermons. Not to mention they get to be entertained in the process.
And yet, when the guy finally does read an issue, he has the gall to complain to me that he made an error in assuming that this is a church bulletin?! Even though he’s read it closely enough now and then to have “occasionally used a story as an illustration during a youth lesson”? Astounding. So here’s a guy who thinks he’s “watching out” for today’s youth, yet so irresponsible that he doesn’t have any clue about whether a publication he’s been recommending is sacred or secular. Yeah, there’s a role model for you. What do you want to bet that the teens in his group laugh at his cluelessness behind his back as much as I am? Except I do it in front of his front — I sure hope he has all of his parts covered.
As I told Jeff on Tuesday when I replied to his note, the only way for him to “never see another article like this in your newsletter” is to unsubscribe. As of this writing, he’s still on the distribution list. Hello? “Duh” indeed.
And Now, The Letters
Heck yeah my little rant brought letters! Scores of them. The most interesting (or funny) follow, starting with the most important:
I have to comment about Jeff’s letter. It is this attitude — that body parts and sex is not to be talked about — that has allowed pedophile priests (and others) to get away with their crimes for so long. The young victims have been taught not to say anything about such matters. They believe they are to blame for what has happened to them. Whatever damage they made have suffered from molestation is greatly increased by feelings of guilt and the inability to express what they feel. Because even talking about it would be wrong!! And the Church would rather put more children at risk than admit that a priest could do such things!!! –Leni, California
Wow: what a great point. Leni also noted that he is close to such a victim, so he unfortunately knows what he’s talking about.
Not all ministers are morons, believe me. I was ordained over 4 years ago and I have still as yet to mistake any humourous newsletter for a “Christian organisation sharing bizarre but true stories.” This stellar example of a truly pompous buffoon is a perfect illustration of why more and more people are turning away from traditional “mainstream” religious organisations these days. Then again, you must also add to the equation the fact that he’s a Youth Pastor in a First Baptist church, perhaps the most anal-rententive and uptight of all Christian sects; remember why Baptist ministers and churches won’t permit their members to make love standing up…they’re afraid it’ll lead to dancing! Sincerely, –Rev. Gary, Canada
Heh! Well, not all FBC types are anal-retentive and uptight, Gary — one of the most subtle responses to Jeff’s letter was from Walter, the Senior Pastor of a large First Baptist church in Florida, who simply ordered a two-year Premium subscription upgrade, carefully writing on the “company” line on the order form “First Baptist Church”. I sent him a note thanking him for the subtle and sublime gesture I got in response to Jeff. His response: “You’re welcome. Keep using your head!”
I just wanted to tell you how much I adore This is True, and let you know that I am a minister that works with adolescents on a daily basis. I was enchanted by your response to Jeff the youth pastor who was so mortified by your mention of unmentionable body parts. In my dealings with teens, I’ve come to realize that sex occupies 97 percent of their daily cognitive expenditures with sleeping, breathing and eating taking up the latter 3 percent. Any “Youth Pastor” who is not equipped or unwilling to broach frank discussion of sex and body parts when the subject comes up is missing a great opportunity to bring his message in a healthy manner. I am pleased to say that I have directed some of my kids to your website and we frequently talk about the subjects you present. It’s a great laugh usually, and it’s good to see the kids understand how dumb people can be sometimes! We are constantly checking our decisions against the bar you have set by asking ourselves, “Would my response (to a given situation) get me featured in This is True?” It ranks right up there with WWJD in terms of effective self discipline! Thanks for all your great work, and don’t worry about self-righteous, pompous oafs like Jeff. …Not that I’m being judgemental or anything. Yours, –Rev. Sean, Connecticut
Certainly not! Perish the thought.
Randy: You have a very rare ability to depict human weirdness in the most strange situations with perfect common-use language, and I found almost incredible that anyone could get offended by any article. In fact, sometimes I think that you actually clean up the original text for a better language. I agree with you in the conclusion that this Jeff guy hasn’t really read True as it deserves to be read: Entirely from cover to cover… errrrr I mean, from page down to page down until the very end of it, and with a nice sense of humor, being prepared to read some of the most strangenous (and funny) stories on human behavior. –Darío, Dominican Republic
Alas, I clean it up more than I want to. Thanks to slimy spammers, if I so much use the word “naked” in a story (as in “The astronomer noted the star could be seen with the naked eye.”), a huge number of issues get bounced as “spam” because of the “dirty word” included. It’s pathetic that I can’t use normal words because they’ve been declared “dirty” thanks to being included in so much porn spam, but I’ve seen the filter reports from reader’s mail systems!
If I wasn’t a poor small town preacher in debt up to my eyeballs I would upgrade to the Premium edition. Like Jeff, I have used some of the material in sermons. (I am a United Methodist minister.) Of course there are other stories that I have not used, for obvious reasons! I am constantly amazed at how out of touch so many who share my profession appear to be with reality. It seems that many would prefer that the whole world simply pretend that stupid, even bad stuff does not exist. But it does. Reading This is True both entertains me and reminds me how strange people can be. I see my job not as a “policeman” ordained to condemn others, rather as a messenger who simply shares in both word and deed the love of a God who, by the way, I am convinced has an incredible sense of humor! –Preacher John, Alabama
Several readers have come forward to give Preacher John a gift subscription to the Premium edition after reading that letter. What a different example they’re providing — and living — compared to Jeff!
I find your publication really interesting and funny. It makes me smile at the way we humans can be so weird, uncanny, obbsessed, funny, and just plain human. As a future priest of the Catholic faith these stories are good for my understating of human nature and the all important task of coming to terms with people just like me who struggle day in and day out with their idiosyncrasies. Sometimes we take ourselves way to seriously in terms of our human nature, which is really so very fragile and prone to foibles and failings. This is True enlighteners me each week regardless of the content, providing evidence to me that we really do need God to save us from ourselves! Keep up the good and funny work. –John, New York
I’m also one of many ordained ministers that receive your publication (and have since ’96 or ’97). Hey, I’ve been offended by some of the stories, but I know that’s absolutely no reason to end my subscription or to get bent out of shape. Well, once I did get bent out of shape, but I didn’t write to whine (at least I don’t think I did) or unsubscribe. Honestly, this publication is just too good to leave. I hopped on the subscriber list under recommendation by a youth minister, who said up front that this was not a “Christian” publication, but said that he gleaned many good stories from here that he used for his youth meetings. And no, it was not Jeff from Washington! This is True is one of only 4 newsletters that I’ve gotten regularly since that ’96-’97 time period. You are among that group with a political newsletter, a general computer newsletter, and a sermon newsletter. Looking at that list, you can see why I need your newsletter… for comic relief! –Elbert, Delaware
This is one of the perks of True: not only do we get humorous, interesting, bizarre, or even infuriating stories but the occasional outbursts of people who just don’t get it. I refer of course to Jeff, the youth minister and how easy it was for you to call him out on his lack of logic. Such is life. Keep at it, Randy, you’re doing fine work. –Tom in Texas
I am also a youth pastor. And like Jeff I use This is True with my youth group. Unlike Jeff I use it every week as a crowd breaker. The youth have the ability to find good and wholesome material on the internet along with all of the Spank Me sites out there. I have told them about This is True and some of them visit the site. Especially if as the youth pastor I decide not to read every story involving Road Cone Romance (they love the Sundays that I forget to read through This is True beforehand). I appreciate Jeff’s concern, but our job is to prepare people to deal with life in a Christ like fashion. Plus God made pubic hair! –Tyson, California
The “Road Cone Romance” story Tyson refers to was about a guy who police in Scotland arrested after he tried to have sex with a red traffic cone — in the middle of the street. I would have loved to have been in the pews when he was reading that one cold. Who says church is never fun!?
You handled Jeff’s criticism with much more diplomacy than I would have been able to muster. How rude of people to put the blame on others when they are the ones who have made a mistake! If he was concerned that the material would not be appropriate for his young charges, then he should have researched the publication before having used it! I’m afraid that all “Jeff” achieved in writing you that nasty letter was making my sides hurt — from giggling at your responses — and making himself look…a little less than on top of things. (I might remind “Jeff” of what “assuming” does….) I’ve been a subscriber for probably over a year now, and you never fail to crack me up! Keep up the good work! (I also admire you for, you know, that “diplomacy” thing. I never was good at that, myself!) –Jennifer, Maryland
Huh: I could use a bunch of different words to describe my reply, but “diplomatic” wouldn’t have occurred to me. A number of people wrote to say that I shouldn’t get so “upset” at such letters. Upset? Not in the least! They’re incredibly funny, as you point out, and it’s downright fun to write the responses. But enough people have written me to say that I shouldn’t get “upset” at letters from “idiots” that I wrote a (short) response to them some time ago. It’s posted here.
I suppose the church won’t allow us to initialise the title of your publication either? –Ivan, United Kingdom
What vacuum is this guy living in?? I’m a Christian Youth Counselor in California. I teach my kids that we do not live in a Walt Disney, Mary Poppins, gingerbread house kind of world. Stuff happens. And sometimes it’s funny, ironic, or downright maddening and unfair! I’ve never used one of your stories as an illustration, but I think I will now. There is so much injustice in this world. What I also teach my kids is that some people are stupid. Not ignorant, but just plain stupid. They have just enough sense to get up in the morning and after that, it’s all over. This sounds like Jeff, the Youth Pastor in Washington. I’m glad my kids don’t go to his church. –Kevin, California
If Jeff’s offended by stories of pubic hair, how would he react to literature about sexual positions and praising breasts found in most churches? I refer to the book in the bible, Song of Solomon, which is a multi-dimensional poem comparing God’s love for us with the fervor of the wedding night. Many Christian sects are boring and even irrelevant because they don’t have the guts to let their hair down with simple things like relevant music. Nor can they face real life issues in front of their people, who are searching for the very real-ness being avoided. That item — about the shaver and your tagline — was one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. By the way, I’m 50 years old, a former Baptist but still Christian, and I can still fire off the old rocket boosters. Now, where to get that shaver…. –Steve, New York
There are days were I don’t want to open my email for fear of seeing yet another panic stricken letter from my clients (I work as a grant writing consultant), but I really do love seeing This is True! I had to shake my head about the youth pastor who complained that you’re not a Christian organization. Right on with your assessment! I can’t believe he was sending his students to your site without even knowing what your site was about. Further, how can he not know if he’s using your stories in his discussions? At least he’s sending them to a place where they’ll be challenged to think. –Barbara, California
That would probably be his worst fear: that his kids might learn how to think rather than blindly obey his fevered vision of Baptist dogma.
Pastor Jeff has a series of problems that I’m not about to go into (although a copious list of them could be compiled alphabetically, categorically and in order of importance). Thank God (no pun intended) he wasn’t subscribing when that kid got busted by his high school principal on Halloween for dressing up like the vagina. [That story, complete with photo, is here. -rc] People that criminally stupid should be illegal. Jeff, this planet ain’t big enough for the both of us. Be off by sundown. –Ann-Marie, Wisconsin
I get really uptight when I read stupid comments from ministers of religion who complain about real life happenings. People who believe that when you’re dead you live forever; people to believe that after three days of being dead you can come back to life; people who believe that stuff and then have the gall to complain about Harry Potter being “evil”. Come on now. Believe what you want to, but don’t try and make me believe it too. –Pete, England
You wrote: “Frankly, I think the concept of women shaving their lover’s initials into their crotch is reasonably weird, especially since ‘R’ (my initial) would be pretty hard to do well.” Now, if that isn’t an invitation, I don’t know what is. I hope you share the responses to that challenge! (If the stats in the latest Playboy are correct, 60+% of women will need to let it grow out before attempting the new shave….) –Abe, Florida
So far, none of my fairer-sexed readers have sent a photo of their attempt. I’ll consider posting any that do come in if they give permission for me to do so. They’ll get extra points for Braille, of course! (No, I’m not blind, but a number of my readers are.)