This post is really about language, thought it might not seem like it at first.
This afternoon, we went to a lice removal specialist up in Burlingame. We’d done the pesticide shampoo, we’d washed bedding and clothing in hot water, but it’s really hard to be patient enough to spend an hour combing through your partner’s hair to remove nits, and then spend another hour having your partner comb through your hair. We decided it was worth it to us to spend the money to have someone else do it for us.
As I sat there, I realized that what the fellow was doing to me was picking nits — he was, in fact, a professional nitpicker. As it is usually used, the word “nitpicker” has negative connotations: it means someone who pays too much attention to detail, who doesn’t see the forest for the trees, a micro-manager. But if you’re getting rid of a live infestation, you really, really want obsessive attention to detail. Thus it is curious that the word “nitpicker” has negative connotations; it makes more sense to me that it should have positive connotations.
But language changes over time, and the meanings of words often evolve away from their original meanings. So nowadays it is no longer a compliment to call someone a nitpicker.
We had some excitement at home this morning: we discovered that we have an infestation of head lice in our house. So we’re following the recommendations of the CDC: treat heads with over-the-counter pyrethrin or permethrin preparations; wash clothing and bedding in hot water and dry at high heat (lice die at over 130 degrees); anything that can’t be washed goes in a sealed plastic bag for two weeks (adult lice and eggs die after two weeks away from humans).
And yes, Carol and I being who we are, we did make stupid jokes while dealing with the head lice: [Pointing to one another:] “Hey, you’re a lousy human being. Literally! Heh, heh, heh.” [While applying head lice shampoo, speaking to lice:] “Die for your crime against humanity, you louse! Heh, heh, heh.” And so on.
Why mention this on a religion blog? Because one of the things that liberal congregations have been very good at over the past century or two is promoting public health initiatives. It can be hard to talk about things like lice, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), etc., and congregations have been pretty effective at making it easier to talk openly about such topics. A shining example is the grade 7-9 unit of the Our Whole Lives comprehensive sexuality education program developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ — by the end of that program, young adolescents are able to talk openly and honestly about STDs and sexual health. It’s yet another reason to participate in a congregation.