Monday, May 25, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Monday morning

I am grateful to all the men and women who paid the ultimate price while defending our nation. It is so sad that sinful mankind repeatedly resorts to war in an attempt to solve political disagreements. That’s our pitiful lot, living here in this fallen world. But at various times over the years, when our country needed to be defended, a select few stepped forward and put their lives on the line. Let us pray that our merciful God will bless and comfort their eternal souls. And let us pray for those who are in harm’s way today. On this Memorial Day, let us never forget that freedom isn’t free. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Saturday morning

I am grateful that I am not forced to make my living by playing the game of golf. If that were the case, my family and I would’ve starved to death a long time ago. Don’t get me wrong, I love the game of golf. I’m one of the few people I know who thinks watching golf on TV is really exciting. And I truly wish I could play the game with a modicum of competence—you know, maybe shoot in the low 90s once in a while. Nothing spectacular. But the fact is, I am so awful at the game of golf, it borders on the comical.

I played in an industry outing yesterday, and I don’t think there was a single time that I hit the ball solidly and straight. Oh, I hit a few solidly…right into the woods. And I hit a few straight…but only 50 yards (with a 3 Wood!!!).

I know I’m getting old, and it’s been many decades since I played football and baseball in college, but I’ve never been a total spaz when it comes to hand-eye-coordination activities—except when I put a golf club in my hands. Then it suddenly turns into an episode of the Three Stooges.

Well, we did have a lot of fun yesterday. And I made it thru 18 holes without losing ALL of the dozen balls I brought. So that’s a moral victory. I’m sure glad my paycheck doesn’t depend on how solidly and straight I can hit a golf ball.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, May 22, 2015

As mentioned last week, LeMoyne College, a Jesuit school in upstate New York, invited Cardinal Timothy Dolan to be the Commencement speaker. A group of outraged students started a petition, demanding that the school disinvite the Cardinal because he is “homophobic.” In other words, he holds the Catholic view (and, up until a few years ago, the worldwide historic view) that marriage is between one man and one woman.

However, at the same graduation ceremony, LeMoyne College also bestowed an honorary degree on Lois Whitman, a “human rights activist” who serves on the board of directors of the Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization that zealously promotes abortion and contraception. In addition, Whitman is on the board of directors of Physicians for Human Rights, a group with a nice sounding name that also zealously promotes abortion.

The Catholic students at the Catholic college, who protested the Catholic Cardinal for holding Catholic views, did not say a peep about the abortion-loving Ms. Whitman.

Wait. What?! What in God’s name is it about Jesuit schools these days? They are some of the most looney, loopy, leftist, un-Catholic institutions you can find. The Jesuits were formed by St. Ignatius Loyola centuries ago to protect the Church from Protestants. But now, who will protect the Church from Jesuits?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Connecticut Yankee in King Jesus' Court -- part 1


Jerry Francis gazed at the stars, twinkling brightly against the pitch black sky. How pretty, he thought. Then his attention shifted as he realized thorns were poking him in the back. A moment later his thoughts changed once again, and Jerry now wondered why he was lying in a briar patch staring at the sky, why his mind seemed to be operating in slow motion, and what in the world was that odd hissing sound?
Lifting his head slowly, Jerry looked toward the curious noise. He saw the silhouette of a car about 20 feet away, with the driver’s door flung open. Steam spewed from the spot where the crumpled front end pressed against a large maple tree. Fragments of information began to drift into Jerry’s foggy brain: he had been watching a baseball game on TV at his friend Vinny’s house. He never called home to tell his wife Brenda where he was. It was after midnight when he finally left. He was driving fast along the deserted state highway and rehearsing out loud what he hoped would be a believable excuse. And that’s all he could remember.
Jerry raised his hand and gently touched the lump on the top of his forehead. No wonder everything’s foggy, he thought. The next thought to pop into his mind was, I’ve got to get back to the road and flag down another car. He lurched into the sitting position and immediately saw more stars as the blood drained from his head. “Oh no,” he mumbled, “Don’t faint now…” But it was too late. The last sensation he felt before losing consciousness was the tingle of thorns poking him again as he flopped onto his back.

*  *  *

Jerry felt the bright sunshine before he actually saw it. As he emerged from his long and deep slumber, the warmth of the sun baked against his face. A few moments later, as his eyes started flickering behind closed lids, he saw vivid red colors. When he opened his eyelids ever-so-slightly, blinding white light streamed in, causing Jerry to cup his hand over his face. As he lay there, trying desperately to remember exactly where he was and exactly how he had gotten there, another curious sound filled his ears: the growing crescendo of a large group of people shouting, which reminded him of the crowd at Yankee Stadium when the bases were loaded and the cleanup hitter was striding toward the plate.
As Jerry wondered why a crowd of people would be gathered along a rural state highway in the suburbs of New Haven, a clear voice pierced the air from no more than a few feet away. “Jeremiah! Jeremiah!” the voice said. Then Jerry felt a hand grab his shoulder. “Jeremiah! Why are you sleeping?! Come on, get up. He’s almost here!”
With help from the mysterious hand, Jerry slowly sat up and carefully peeked through the fingers still covering his face. He saw the blurry form of a man kneeling beside him.
“Are you…are you the ambulance driver?” Jerry asked slowly.
“Were you drinking wine all night?” came the terse reply. As Jerry thought to himself, No, I only had a few beers at Vinny’s, the voice continued, “It’s me, Benjamin, and the man I told you about last night, Jesus of Nazareth, is here! He’s entering into Jerusalem! Can’t you hear the crowds?!”
Jerry eyes were finally adjusting to the bright sunshine, and he took a long look around at his surroundings. What he saw almost caused the blood to drain from his head again.
Yes, there was a crowd of people there, hundreds of folks lining each side of the road. But Jerry no longer wondered why a crowd was gathered on a rural state highway—despite their curious clothing—because he was too busy wondering why the road was no longer paved and how all the maple and pine trees had turned into palm trees.
The man called Benjamin helped Jerry to his feet. As he stood, Jerry looked down and noticed he was wearing a long tan robe and had sandals on his feet. “What the— Where’re my jeans? My Nikes?” he said. Jerry paused and looked at the excited crowd waving palm branches. “Toto,” he whispered to himself, “We’re not in Connecticut anymore.”
“Oh, here he comes!” Benjamin yelled.
The shouting grew louder and some people stepped forward and spread palm branches and articles of clothing in the center of the dusty road. A small procession came into view. Above the roar, Jerry heard people, including Benjamin, proclaim in unison, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
The procession came near Jerry’s spot along the road. Not exactly the Rose Bowl parade, he thought. About ten bearded men were in the lead, holding palm branches and waving to the crowd. Next was the obvious center of attention, a man riding sidesaddle on a donkey. Another eight or ten men brought up the rear, with some women and children following in their wake, and that was the entire show.
When the donkey was directly in front of Jerry, the rider looked straight at him and smiled. A cold chill ran down Jerry’s spine as the man’s gentle gaze seemed to penetrate his soul. “Whoa, wait a minute,” he said, as the last bit of fogginess vanished from his brain. “This looks just like…” his voice trailed off as he tried to recall the details of his childhood Catechism classes. “But, but it can’t be,” he said. “That was 2,000 years ago.”
For a moment, Jerry wished he had accompanied his wife and kids to church once in a while. But then he quickly remembered why he never went to church: he simply didn’t believe any of it. “Oh, I’m sure there was a guy named Jesus,” he would tell Brenda whenever she brought up the subject, “but all that stuff about miracles is a bunch of fairy tales.”
“Isn’t he wonderful?!” Benjamin shouted, interrupting Jerry’s thoughts. “Jesus will be the new king of Israel! He’s going to lead us in a violent revolt against the Romans, just like I told you last night!”
“What do you mean, ‘last night’?” Jerry asked. “Last night I was watching a Yankees game on Vinny’s big-screen TV.”
“Last night you were with me,” Benjamin replied, “at the secret meeting of the Zealots. You pledged your life to help us overthrow the Romans.” As Benjamin spoke, he carefully opened the front of his cloak and revealed two sharp daggers hanging from his belt. “And here’s the weapon I promised to give you.”
Benjamin carefully passed one of the 12-inch blades to Jerry, who held it by the handle between thumb and forefinger as if it were a dead mouse. “Ohh-kaaay,” Jerry said slowly. “Someday you’ll have to fill me in on the details of what I did last night.”
“Hide it in your cloak,” Benjamin ordered urgently. “You know we’re not allowed to have weapons. We’ll be arrested if they catch us!”
Jerry nervously fumbled with the dagger and concealed it in his robes, relieved that no blood was drawn in the process.
“Now, come on,” Benjamin said. “Let’s follow Jesus and meet up with our brother revolutionaries. Maybe the battle against the Romans will begin today!”
“Wait a minute, Benny,” Jerry stammered as he grabbed Benjamin’s arm, “I, uh, I’m not sure exactly what’s going on here, but I think I have an idea who this Jesus is, and you gotta trust me, it’s not gonna happen that way.”
“What do you mean?” Benjamin asked.
“I, I don’t think Jesus is going to lead an army and drive out the Romans,” Jerry replied. “At least—if I understand what Sister Mary Margaret taught me twenty-five years ago—not in this world. In fact, Benny, by Friday this whole crowd is going to demand that Jesus be put to death!”
“You were drinking all night!” Benjamin laughed. “How are you going to kill Romans with your head filled with wine?”

Jerry couldn’t think of an answer—he couldn’t even comprehend the question—but the idea of a stiff drink sounded pretty good. Benjamin put his arm around Jerry’s shoulders and the two men began walking up the dusty road toward the center of Jerusalem. As they walked, Jerry shook his head in amazement. “Man,” he said softly, “Brenda is never gonna believe this excuse.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hipster Beard: Trendy or Face Mullet?

Admittedly, I’m oblivious to fashion. For example, I just recently noticed that mullet haircuts are no longer in style. Not that I currently have, or have ever had, a mullet. I mean, I’m oblivious to fashion, but I’m not blind. Even back during the 1990s, when mullets were fashionable in certain circles, I mostly snickered when I saw guys with that big, rectangular shock of hair hanging down from the back of their heads. The other day I was watching a movie from the ‘90s, and I noticed many of the characters sported mullets. I said to myself, “Oh wow, I haven’t seen hair like that in a long time — thank goodness!”

Anyway, the point of my mullet musings is to explain that I’m oblivious to fashion. So what I’m about to discuss may be a new fashion trend, or it may be something that’s been around for a while and I’m just finally noticing. I speak, of course, about the hipster beard, which for many guys looks suspiciously like a mullet, except in the front. Maybe we should call it the “face mullet.”

Who decided that it is now cool to look like a Civil War general — but with a pork pie hat and an iPhone rather than a felt Stetson and a saber? Also, I don’t think too many Civil War generals wore skinny jeans and orange Converse All-Star sneakers. But you never know, maybe there was an artillery regiment from the Silicon Valley.

Everywhere you go these days, you see big, bushy hipster beards on young people, mostly men. And as the name implies, the beard makes one hip. I guess even if one is 34 years old and still living in his mother’s basement and working part-time at Starbucks, having that face mullet means he is hip. After all, it’s not his fault the economy is sluggish, and who knew the guidance counselor at school was a tad bit optimistic when she said a Master’s degree in Angst Studies would guarantee a high-paying job?

Hipster beards seem like a lot of work. Yes, I know the guys don’t have to shave each day anymore, but I bet there is still a lot of trimming and grooming involved. There’s a fine line between the hipster look and the homeless look. Civil War generals had big bushy beards mostly because they lived in tents for months at a time, and shaving was rather difficult, especially when enemy artillery shells were exploding all around you. What you can’t see in those old black-and-white still photos from the Civil War are the many beard hitch-hikers: the bugs that found a delightful home in that big ol’ bundle of chin hair. Eww!

So by the time a guy trims and grooms, then combs out food particles and sprays on insecticide, it would’ve been quicker to do a daily shave, like we unhip guys.

Because I am oblivious to fashion, this essay might be five years too late. Maybe the face mullet, I mean, the hipster beard is no longer cool. Fashion is a funny thing. When one person does something unique, he or she is odd. When a handful of people do the same unique thing, it is suddenly trendy and fashionable. But when many people say, “I want to be unique, just like everyone else,” then it’s time for a refresher course on the definition of “unique.”

So maybe the hipster beard is about to go the way of the much-maligned mullet. On the other hand, I came of age in the 1970s, so I’m the last person to be offering any opinion about fashion. Now, where did I leave my lime green leisure suit?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Pentecost: Time For The Holy Spirit — And Some Cake

On Sunday, May 24th, don’t forget to bake a cake and get some candles. It’s Pentecost Sunday, which is the official birthday of the Church. If you didn’t know that, then you’re welcome. I always like to offer helpful service to my fellow man, and giving people a valid excuse to have some cake is one of the nicest things anyone can do—at least in my book. And in my book, cake is required a minimum of four times per week.

On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the event that occurred 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection. All the disciples were gathered in the upper room. Suddenly the room was filled with a sound like the rushing wind. Then little flames of fire appeared and came to rest over each of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues. And the first thing St. Peter said was, “Hey, let’s have some cake.”

OK well, maybe he didn’t actually say that, but I’m sure he was thinking it. After all, it was the Church’s birthday. I hope the little flames over their heads didn’t set the party hats on fire.

Nowadays, we’ve not only lost sight of the fact that Pentecost is the Church’s birthday, but we’ve also lost sight of our need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s face it, the Holy Spirit is often the forgotten person of the Trinity. We say, “God the Father, yes, the Almighty Creator of the Universe.” Then we say, “Jesus Christ, yes, His only Son, our Lord and Savior.” And finally, we say, “The Holy Spirit, well, um, two out of three ain’t bad.”

The Holy Spirit is like the Maytag Repairman in those old TV commercials: no one ever bothers to call Him.

It’s very difficult to comprehend the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and if brilliant theologians struggle with it, I’m certainly not going to be able to explain it. But an analogy I once heard kind of makes sense. Think of God the Father as a lamp, and Jesus is like a light bulb, and the Holy Spirit is like electricity. If you have a lamp and a bulb, that’s a great start. But if you never plug it in and get some electricity flowing, you will remain in the dark.

Knowing that God the Father is our Creator is great. Knowing that Jesus is the Messiah who died on the cross and rose again three days later is wonderful. But if we stop there, it’s just a bunch of interesting information. It’s not a life-changing experience that transforms us from the inside out. The Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity who dwells in our hearts and inspires us to live joyful and victorious Christian lives.

Pentecost Sunday is the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves of how important the Holy Spirit is. Just read the Gospels and the Book of Acts to see how the Holy Spirit can change people. Before Pentecost, the disciples were confused and timid. Don’t forget: they were in the upper room behind locked doors because they were afraid. But when the Holy Spirit filled them with power, they burst out of that upper room—after, I assume, having some cake—and were never timid again. A bunch of simple fishermen and other uneducated people spread the Good News throughout the entire known world and changed the course of human history. It wasn’t because of their talent and skills, it was the power of the Holy Spirit.

So on Pentecost Sunday let’s pray that the Holy Spirit fills us with power, too. And don’t forget to have some cake.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

'Attitude of Gratitude' observation for Sunday afternoon

I am grateful that over 25 years ago my father-in-law, Ed, and my best friend, Steve, helped me design and build the deck off the back of our house. Which means, unlike what I would have done if on my own, that good ol' deck is still as sturdy as a battleship. All it needs is a fresh coat of stain every five years or so. And moments ago I finished the multi-weekend chore of applying stain. I'm grateful the weather is wonderful; I'm grateful the deck isn't as large as I wanted to make it 25 years ago; and most of all, I'm grateful it's done!