Thursday, May 24, 2018

Sox-Yanks ‘Basebrawl’ is Wrong – Sort of


Last month there was a bench-clearing brawl between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. A Yankee player, Tyler Austin, slid hard into second base and spiked the Red Sox infielder, Brock Holt. The Red Sox took umbrage with this behavior, although I don't think any of the fist-waving, spittle-flecked screams of anger by the Sox players included the word “umbrage.”

A few innings later, when Mr. Austin came to bat again, Sox pitcher Joe Kelly promptly fired a 98 MPH fastball into the middle of his back. Now, it was time for Austin to be thoroughly umbragized, and he sprinted toward the mound and expressed his displeasure with the situation by trying to punch Mr. Kelly’s teeth through the back of his skull. Both dugouts quickly emptied and a full scale “basebrawl” was underway.

With basebrawls, rarely does much actual fighting occur. It's mostly a lot of shoving and wrestling, finger-pointing and profane threats to perform prostate exams using a broken baseball bat. A modern basebrawl is the only time we get to witness a group of millionaires vowing to kill one another. Oh wait, there is another time when this happens: a typical political panel discussion on CNN.

In the wake of the brawl, the following things occurred, in this order: 1. Kelly said it was an accident and the pitch “slipped.” 2. Everyone who has ever watched a baseball game laughed out loud and said, “Yeah, sure!” 3. League officials expressed outrage and promised that fines and suspensions would be forthcoming. 4. League officials, when safely behind closed doors, high-fived each other and squealed with delight, saying, “The Sox-Yankees rivalry is hot again! People are gonna start watching baseball again!”
5. The Red Sox minor league team in Pawtucket, RI, announced they would honor New England’s newest hero with a special promotion: everyone named either “Joe” or “Kelly” gets into the ballpark for free. 6. I tried to explain to my wife that throwing a fastball right at a batter on purpose is, of course, dangerous and wrong, but at the same time it is a time-honored baseball tradition and to be expected periodically. 7. My wife rolled her eyes in disgust and declared if that is the case, then both the game of baseball and I are dumb. 8. I shrugged and replied, “We already knew that.”

It's kind of hard to explain, but the history of baseball is chock-filled with memorable beanball wars and bench clearing brawls. Back in the 1950s, New York Giants pitcher Sal Maglie was known as “The Barber” because he regularly gave batters a close shave by firing the ball at their chins. If the Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers did not have numerous brawls each summer, it was a boring season.

In the 60s, star pitchers Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale were so ornery, they'd plunk any batter who had the temerity to hit a home run off of them. When someone took either of these pitchers deep, it was guaranteed the next time up he'd be drilled right in the ribs. It was just part of the game. Of course, back then there was no Designated Hitter, and so these pitchers had to come to bat, where they often endured retaliatory lumps of their own. This built-in system of checks and balances kept things from getting out of control — most of the time.

After talking with my wife, I now see the light, and totally agree that hitting a batter on purpose is wrong. I cannot condone this behavior, since someone could get really hurt. Joe Kelly should be ashamed of himself.

But you have to admit, the Sox-Yankees rivalry is hot again! Just sayin’.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Trinity Sunday and the Great Commission


This weekend, we celebrate Trinity Sunday, a feast that honors the all-important Christian doctrine—which no one quite comprehends—the Holy Trinity.

At best, all we can do to grasp Trinitarian doctrine is to use imperfect analogies. As long as we’re on this side of eternity—in our fallen, time-constrained, 3-dimensional natural world—I suspect we’ll never be able to fully understand the Trinity. For now, we have to take it as an article of faith, a profound divine mystery, that it is true. I also suspect once we get on the other side of eternity, once we get to Heaven and break free of the constraints of time and space, we’ll slap our celestial foreheads and exclaim, “Oh, now I get it! That wasn’t so complicated after all.”

In this week’s gospel reading, the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gives his followers what is known as The Great Commission. This passage is chosen for this week because it contains the most clear Trinitarian statement in all of Scripture. Jesus says, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Although it is difficult to comprehend the concept of the Holy Trinity, it is not difficult to comprehend what Jesus is telling us to do in this Great Commission. He wants us to make the whole world His followers. (Ooh, how politically incorrect is that?! Especially nowadays in our relativistic, perpetually offended culture?)

Also, in this week’s gospel reading, Jesus explains how we can fulfill the Great Commission and bring the whole world into a proper relationship with God. He says, “I am with you always.”

We can’t do it through our own power. We’re too weak. We can only fulfill our commission if we use Jesus’ supernatural power working through us.

Now, at this point, some people are probably saying, “Yeah, we already tried that Great Commission thing. It was called The Inquisition, and burnings at the stake, and bloody warfare, etc.”

Good point. Throughout history some have tried to convert the world to Christianity with swords and guns and terror and death. And this is exactly what relativistic secularists fear when they hear Christians say, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

But conversion to Christ occurs through the heart and free will. It is not accomplished by force; it is accomplished by love. That’s why it is so important that Jesus is with us always. Only when Jesus is with us can we possibly muster enough love to attract the world to the truth of the Gospel. Only when we “love our neighbors as ourselves,” and “lay down our lives for a friend,” and “pray for our enemies” can we show the world that Jesus is the only path to Heaven.

Just as no one can quite comprehend the Holy Trinity, no one can quite comprehend how the world will be converted by love rather than force. But the power of God, the love of Christ, and the truth of the Holy Spirit are greater than anything we can imagine. I suspect once we get on the other side of eternity, once we get to Heaven and see that love and peace truly conquer hatred and violence, we’ll slap our celestial foreheads and exclaim, “Oh, now I get it! That wasn’t so complicated after all.”


Friday, May 18, 2018

Springtime Abuzz with Activity


Finally, after an especially long and cold winter — and an even longer and colder early spring — the real spring is here! Comparing the springtime to winter is simply no contest. I made a list of the things I enjoy about winter. It was a rather short list, with only two items: Christmas and no bugs.

There are many things to like about spring, including the fact there is actually daylight when I’m driving to my office in the morning and back home in the evening. In the winter, it’s always dark outside. They tell me the sun comes out in the winter for a few hours in the middle of the day, but since I have no windows in my office, I personally cannot confirm that assertion.

In the spring, to get a comfortable environment inside my home, I just open a few windows, and until our anointed leaders in Hartford figure out how to levy a tax on fresh air (coming next year, I suspect, along with highway tolls), the price is free. In the winter, my furnace runs almost constantly just to keep my house at a chilly 67-degrees. The last I checked, heating oil does not grow on trees.

In the spring, if I want to go somewhere, I just grab my car keys and sunglasses and go. In the winter, I have to bundle up in a heavy coat, scarf, hat, gloves, and boots; I have to say a quick prayer to St. Diehard, the patron saint of weak car batteries; and if my prayer is answered and my car actually starts in the sub-freezing weather, I have to drive cautiously and avoid the following: black ice, snow banks, potholes, and those crazy guys with broken defrosters who navigate their vehicles by peering through small peepholes they create on the windshield with the palm of their hand.

In the spring, I can enjoy Red Sox baseball games on the television or radio. In the winter, I have to spend the long cold nights lamenting the previous disappointing season and looking hopefully toward the upcoming season (which is off to a pretty good start, wouldn’t you say?).

Anyway, although spring is by far the most enjoyable season of the year, there is one thing about spring that really bites (literally) and really sucks (again, literally). I’m talking about insects.

Despite all the wonderful aspects of spring, this is the time of year when we see the appearance of all those little — to use the technical scientific terminology — creepy crawly buzzing buggers.

I don’t know where the bugs are during the winter; maybe they’re hiding in their subterranean insect lairs, complaining about the dark, getting frostbite on their six little feet when clearing snow from their tunnels, trying to avoid those crazy bugs with broken defrosters, and lamenting their disappointing favorite insect baseball team.

But wherever they hide in the winter months, as soon as the weather warms up, eight gazillion insects suddenly appear all at once — most of them in my backyard. There are flies, ants, gnats, mosquitoes, moths, dragonflies, and hundreds of different types of spiders. (Yeah, I realize spiders technically are not insects, but whether they have six legs or eight legs, I don’t care. They’re all bugs.)

You want to know something, though? Despite the fact all those insects are buzzing around my head when I’m out in the yard, not to mention crawling up my leg and sucking blood out of my neck, because it’s so warm and sunny and colorful outside, it doesn’t bother me that much. Springtime is so gorgeous I don’t mind sharing it with the bugs.

Except for those darn wasps. I wish they’d leave me alone.



Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Did the Pope Really Say There Is No Hell?


A couple of months ago, on Holy Thursday, a stunning news report appeared in every media outlet around the world. A typical headline read: “Pope says there is no Hell.”

It seems Pope Francis once again had an informal chat with his friend, Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari. In the subsequent article, Scalfari wrote that the pope said holy and faithful people will spend eternity in Heaven with God, while sinful, faithless people will simply cease to exist, because there is no Hell, a place of eternal torment.

Scalfari is a 93-year-old avowed atheist who prides himself on never taking notes or recording interviews. After he meets with someone, he goes back to his office and tries to recreate the basic essence of the discussion, often crafting quotations that did not actually happen.

In the wake of the “there is no Hell” article, the worldwide response was fast and furious. The criticism focused on three issues:

1.     Why in the world is the pope even meeting with this guy, especially since this is not the first time Scalfari printed stunning quotes attributed to Pope Francis?

2.     Why did the Pope not comment and clarify his views in the wake of this article? (Note: As I write this, a few weeks afterward, the pope has yet to address this matter. By the time you read this, maybe something will have been said publicly.)

3.     Why was the Vatican’s official response to this matter so weak? The Vatican statement pointed out Scalfari’s loose journalistic standards, and advised people that the quotations were not exactly what the pope said. However, the Vatican statement did not clearly and forcefully rebuke the quotations in Scalfari’s article, nor reiterate the Church’s 2,000-year-old doctrine on the existence of Hell.

Cardinal Raymond Burke could barely contain his frustration. He angrily declared that the Pope’s alleged denial of Hell and the Vatican’s weak response are causing a Church scandal that is “beyond tolerable.”

Yet again countless believers around the globe are uttering this classic question, but not as a comical punchline: “Is the pope Catholic?”

Personally, I WISH the pope’s alleged comments were true. The idea that sinful, faithless people will spend eternity in torment, separated from the love of God, makes me sad. Especially since many of my loved ones and friends fall into that category. (I know I’m not supposed to judge a person’s heart, but on the other hand, if someone declares, “Belief in God is STUPID!!” then that’s a fairly strong hint.)

However, Jesus’ words in Scripture are crystal clear. Here’s a couple examples: “Don’t fear those who kill the body,” Jesus said, “rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). And: “Then he will say…’Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire’….And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt 25:41, 46).

Anyway, there are a couple of other popular theological claims that I wish also were true:

1.     Assurance of Salvation. This means if you sincerely accept Christ as Lord and Savior at any point in your life, you’re guaranteed eternal life in Heaven. Many Fundamentalist groups preach this belief, and call it, “Once saved, always saved.” I really wish this were true, but again, the words of Scripture do not support it. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matt 7:21). Also, St. Paul gave this warning: “See then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off" (Rom. 11:22). If assurance of salvation is true, Paul never would’ve written that.

2.     Everyone ultimately goes to Heaven. This idea is based on a very sincere desire that every person who ever lived gets spared the pains of Hell. You know who else has that exact same desire? God. But God is not only all-merciful and all-loving, he also is all-just and all-righteous. If evil, unrepentant people get rewarded the same as holy, faithful people, that would make a mockery of God’s justice.

The truth is, as sad as it may be, Hell is real. But God does not send people to Hell. People send themselves there when they choose to spurn God’s offer of love and forgiveness.

So, if you saw those sensational headlines, don’t worry. Pope Francis can’t change Church doctrine, even if he wanted to. And to answer your question: Yes, the pope is Catholic.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Aggressive Drivers in Connecticut


A couple of weeks ago a news report discussed the findings of a nationwide research project, which ranked the 50 U.S. states based on this category: most aggressive drivers. And guess what? Little ol’ Connecticut ranks Number Two in the nation. That’s right, Nutmeg State drivers are more aggressive than motorists in 48 other states. Who says we haven’t achieved anything noteworthy in recent years?

The study, conducted by an outfit called “GasBuddy” (which sounds like a pill you might need to take after having breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Taco Bell), defines aggressive driving this way: speeding, rapid acceleration, hard braking, and abrupt lane changing. Well, in Connecticut, we call this behavior…driving.

The state rankings were based on that well-known scientific unit of measure: “Number of minutes between aggressive driving events.” Unfortunately, there were no details in the news story that explained how the folks at GasBuddy gathered their data. But based on recent congressional testimony by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg regarding privacy concerns, I suspect tech companies have embedded secret software into all of our cell phones that monitors every move we make 24 hours per day — including our driving habits and whether last night’s dinner requires a couple extra GasBuddy pills.

Connecticut drivers averaged 8.2 minutes between aggressive driving events. This is slightly more frequent than the next most aggressive states, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, and New Jersey. The number one aggressive driving state, by a wide margin, is California, with an average of only 6.6 minutes between aggressive driving events.

The report noted that “states with densely populated cities and high levels of congestion are where motorists are more inclined to drive aggressively.” From what I’ve heard, Southern California has the most horribly congested highways on Planet Earth, so it makes sense they’d be ranked Number One. But I’m not surprised Connecticut ranks right up there near the top.

Recently, I got into an argument with a couple of guys about congested highways. We all agreed LA and DC were in a special category of awfulness, so we focused on the northeast. One guy insisted Boston was the worst, and the other guy said the worst traffic problems, by far, are in New York.

I stood my ground, and displaying an inordinate amount of Constitution State pride, I insisted the worst roads are in Connecticut. “95 in Norwalk! 84 in Waterbury!” I shouted. “They’re terrible!”

When retorts of “Mass Pike to Logan!” and “FDR Drive!” were launched at me, I countered with a challenge, “OK, you drive from Middlebury to Southington at 8 a.m. Then make the return trip at 4:30 p.m. Then you get back to me with your results — but you won’t be able to get back to me, because you’ll still be stuck in traffic!!”

Finally, one of the guys said smugly, “Why would I ever want to go to those dopey towns in your dopey state?” And that’s when I hit him with the crowbar, your honor. Case dismissed!

Anyway, the GasBuddy organization is focused on helping motorist reduce aggressive driving, because all that rapid acceleration and hard braking can cause a driver to spend well over $400 per year in extra fuel consumption.

So, the truth of the matter is, Connecticut drivers are not aggressive; we’re just being good citizens. The governor is always whining that gas tax revenues are down because cars have much better fuel economy these days. Nutmeg State drivers are just trying to keep the government afloat with all our fast starts and stops, which force us to purchase more gasoline and pay more taxes.

To be honest, this whole situation is giving me heartburn. I need to take a couple of GasBuddy pills.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Battlefield Update: Satan Is Winning


Have you ever heard of a guy named Neale Donald Walsch? He’s the author of the “Conversations with God” book series, which have a question-and-answer format. Walsch, speaking on behalf of God, provides all the answers.
 

Responding to a question about God’s forgiveness of sins, these are the words that Walsch puts in God’s mouth: “I do not forgive anyone because there is nothing to forgive. There is no such thing as right and wrong and that is what I have been trying to tell everyone, do not judge people. People have chosen to judge one another and this is wrong, because the rule is ‘judge not lest ye be judged.’”

Now, let’s take a look at this statement. According to Walsch’s god, “There is no such thing as right and wrong.” But in the very next sentence, this god says, “People have chosen to judge…and this is wrong.” Umm, let me see if I understand. There is no such thing as wrong, therefore people have done wrong. Ohh-kaaaay.

Do you see how silly this is? Walsch is saying: there is no such thing as right and wrong, and if you don’t agree with me, you’re wrong!

Why am I spending time talking about the views of Mr. Walsch? Well, for one thing, his books have sold millions and millions of copies. For another thing, the “Conversations with God” books have been endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, which means millions more people are being exposed to his spiritual teachings.

One of Walsch’s most fundamental beliefs is that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Everything is relative. Apparently, his view is something like this: It is absolutely true that there is no absolute truth! Again, it’s a silly, self-contradicting declaration.

The idea that absolute truth is real is called by Walsch merely an “illusion of man.” Well, if that idea is an illusion, then Jesus Christ was very misguided, because the Lord clearly proclaimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The reason it is important to be aware of the New Age teachings of Neale Donald Walsch, and to understand how his views differ so starkly from Jesus’ teachings, is because far too many self-described Christians, including many born-again Evangelicals and devout Catholics, have become very fuzzy about the concept of truth.

A recent survey by the Barna Group asked a simple question: “Do you believe in absolute truth?” Here is the breakdown by various groups, with the percentage that answered “yes.”

  • All Americans: 22%.
  • Those born after 1964: 13%.
  • Adults who describe themselves as born-again Christians: 32%.
  • Roman Catholics: 16%.
Wow, Catholics scored worse than the population at large, which includes atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, and followers of Walsch’s and Oprah’s trendy New Age beliefs. A sad conclusion we can draw from this is that Satan is currently winning the battle for hearts and minds and souls.

Whoa, that’s a little harsh, isn’t it, Bill? Well, you tell me, who called into question the truth of God’s word? Who claimed that mankind was equal to God and could become just like God? Who claimed there is no absolute truth nor any final judgment? Who taught that it is perfectly right for us to do whatever it is that “feels” best?

Yes, you’re right, Neale Donald Walsch teaches all these things. But, I mean, who was the first one ever to offer these teachings? Just look in Genesis, chapter 3. It was none other than Satan, the father of lies, who taught those ideas.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say it’s high time we broke free from this muddled, illogical mindset. It’s time we once again taught truth—and the truth has a name: Jesus.


Friday, May 4, 2018

Attack of the ‘Mutant Enzymes’


Here’s a recent news headline: “Scientists develop ‘mutant’ enzyme that eats plastic.”

It seems American and British researchers have engineered an enzyme that can degrade the plastic used to manufacture many consumer goods, especially water bottles. This discovery is being hailed as a possible “recycling solution” to our planet’s plastic pollution problem.

It would be terrific if there was a way to get rid of all the plastic waste fouling our oceans and landfills. The news story explained that the mutant enzyme “digests” plastic. Maybe it’s just me, but this sounds suspiciously like the opening scene of a science fiction horror movie: “The Enzyme That Ate New York.”

The movie opens with a suburban housewife (played by Sandra Bullock) in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner. She calls out to her husband, “Honey, where’s Fluffy? I haven’t seen her since this afternoon.”

Cut to a man sitting in a reclining chair (played by Leonardo DiCaprio — the man, I mean, not the reclining chair), reading the newspaper. He looks up over his paper and says, “No, I haven’t seen her eith— Hey! Did you put the enzymes away, like I told you?” He suddenly jumps up from the chair and runs into the kitchen. He pauses briefly to see a look of dread on his wife’s face, then opens the back door and rushes out onto the deck.

Zoom to the man’s face as his eyes bug out in sheer terror. Cut to the carcass of a small dog (played by Danny DeVito) laying on the deck, completely stripped to the bone.
Cut back to the man’s face as he slowly looks away from the dog and toward his driveway. Cut to a long shot of his new Honda Civic (played by Silvester Stallone), with the front half of the car stripped away, showing just the steel frame and the engine. The outer shell of the back half of the car is slowing dissolving, right before our eyes. A pulsating green film (played by Meryl Streep) covers the back of the car, which is emitting a relentless and low munching sound. The munching sound increases in volume.

Cut back to the man, who has been joined by his wife. She looks at Fluffy’s carcass and then the car. She let’s out a blood-curdling scream. Then the man shouts, “The mutant enzymes are loose! I told you not to store them in Tupperware! Call the police!!”

And then, of course, two hours later during the final scene of the movie, after the entire Eastern Seaboard has been devoured by this “good idea gone awry,” the hero scientist (played by Denzel Washington) who saved the day by developing a mutant pink enzyme that devours the mutant green enzyme, thoughtfully says, “It’s not right to fool with Mother Nature.”

As the hero scientist gazes into the distance, the camera pans away from him, and focuses on his vintage automobile, a Triumph TR6 (played by Sean Connery). A small patch of pink slime is slowly eating away the car’s hood. The same low munching sound is now heard, increasing in volume. As the screen fades to black, the shrill screech of violins, repeating the same frightening high note over and over, lets the audience know two things: the movie is over, and the director (played by Clint Eastwood) was greatly influenced by the shower scene in “Psycho,” directed by Alfred Hitchcock (played by Jack Nicholson).

OK, maybe it won’t happen exactly that way. But does anyone besides me feel a bit uncomfortable when a news headline includes the words “scientists,” “mutant,” and “enzymes”?

I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. Hey, do you hear munching sounds?