Wednesday, June 19, 2024

To Substack, or Not to Substack? That Is the Question

Recently, a good friend said to me, “Bill, you should expand your audience. You should start publishing your essays on Substack.”

“Stub crack?” I said. “What’s that?”

“It’s Substack,” he replied. “An internet platform for writers. You can create regular online newsletters, and as your audience increases it can turn into a very nice retirement income for you.”
“Wait. Did you say income?” I asked. “As in, money is paid to me, rather than me shelling out each month for my Mailchimp group email service?”

“Exactly,” he said. “On Substack, writers post a lot of stuff for free, but they have special content that’s for ‘members only,’ the readers who pay a subscription fee.”

“Oh, I have to ask people to subscribe and send me a check?” I grimaced. 

“No, it’s simple,” he said. “The subscription price is five bucks a month. They pay with a credit card. It’s like asking your loyal readers to buy you a cup of coffee once per month. Or half a cup, if we’re talking about Starbucks.”

I hesitated. “Aw, I dunno…”

He said, “Bill, for every five dollars that comes in, Substack keeps a small percentage, and you get the rest. Here’s an example. If your audience is a mere 500 people, that will be over $2,000 per month in your pocket, each and every month.”

“Wow, that would be nice,” I admitted.

“And,” he continued, “if you gain some readers in other parts of the country, and the number of your paid subscribers grows to, say, 5000, that would be over $20,000 for you — every month! Don’t you want to get rich in your retirement?”

“Rich?” I laughed. “I’ve spent the past 45 years making bad decisions to insure that I don’t get rich. My only retirement goal is to avoid living in a cardboard box under a bridge down by the river.”
“Bill, you gotta listen to me,” he implored. “This is the future of publishing. Now, you’ve got plenty of content, right?”

“Oh yeah,” I answered. “I write two new essays every week, and I have an archive of almost 1200 published humor columns, over a thousand faith essays, two novels, and ideas for at least three novels I’d like to work on during retirement.”

“Perfect!” he said. “You can serialize the novels, and mix the old stuff with the new in your Substack newsletters.”

I sat quietly for a few minutes, while visions of 20 grand per month danced in my head. Then I said, “Oh no, it won’t work.”

“Why?” my friend asked.

“If the people who regularly read my stuff were around 40 years old,” I explained, “it just might work. People that age don’t hesitate to use their credit cards to pay subscription fees. But you see, the people who like my stuff — at least based on emails I receive — are retired seniors.”

“So?” he asked. “Seniors are the wealthiest demographic in the country.”

“No, you don’t understand,” I said. “Many seniors may have some money, but they NEVER give their credit card number to an internet site — at least based on my parents and in-laws.”

Well, at this point, I don’t know what to think. Whenever I’m unsure about something, I ask this simple question: What would Jesus do? 

No wait. That question is for other situations. For this situation, the correct question is: What do the readers think?
Please send a note to MerryCatholic@gmail.com and let me know if having access to my “special content” plus serialized novels is worth a cup of coffee per month — or half a cup if we’re talking Starbucks. Thanks in advance for your words of wisdom. And keep it clean.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Pride is the First and Worst of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’

Recently, I discussed pride with a friend. She explained that whenever one of her young children does something good, she is tempted to say, “That’s terrific! I’m so proud of you!” But since she knows that pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, she hesitates. We agreed a better thing to say would be, “That’s terrific! I’m so grateful to God for you!”

In our modern culture, we are inundated with people who declare how proud they are. In every case, pride is presented as a very good thing. For example, I remember back in my high school days, during football season many people in town put bumper stickers on their cars proclaiming: “Morgan Huskies Have Pride!”

For the first time in forever, our team was really good. During my senior year we went undefeated and won the league championship. So, someone in town printed up hundreds of bumper stickers and we all announced to the world (or at least to a small shoreline town) that we had pride.

However, is pride really a good thing? According to Church theologians, pride is not good at all. In fact, pride is not just one of the Seven Deadly Sins, it’s the first and worst of them all. Many of the other sins on the list have pride as their root. (By the way, if you’re not sure, here are the Big Seven: pride, anger, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, and sloth. Hmm, they kind of describe the American way of life these days, don’t they?)
What exactly is pride? Well, no one has ever discussed this concept better than C.S. Lewis. In his wonderful little book, Mere Christianity, there is a chapter titled, “The Great Sin.” Here’s what Lewis wrote: “According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed and drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” Lewis tells us that pride is competitive by its very nature. “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others….It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.”

 So, to return to the “pride” bumper stickers, if football players are happy when they work hard and score a touchdown, it’s not really so bad to congratulate each other for a job well done. But if they score a touchdown and then immediately start taunting and mocking their opponents in an attempt to humiliate them, you can be sure sinful pride is at work. I can’t remember exactly how we behaved a half-century ago, but if we had taunted our opponents, our head coach would’ve made us run about 15 miles worth of laps at the next practice. It was a different era back then. Just watch any ballgame on TV nowadays. A guy will hit a solo home run in the 8th inning, when his team is behind 9 to 2, and he’ll strut around the bases pounding his chest and screaming to the crowd, “Look at me!!”

As Lewis stated, pride is the complete anti-God state of mind. He also explained why prideful people can’t stand the idea that there really is a God: “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that — and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison — you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God.”

We would be wise to learn from Lewis’ undeniable conclusion: “It is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.”
Pride is not a good thing. It puts us at odds with our fellow man, and more importantly, it puts us at odds with our Creator. Instead of declaring that we are proud of something (a child’s achievement, job promotion, scoring a touchdown, etc.), we really should say that we are grateful to God for that particular blessing.

I mean, really, why embrace an attitude that, as Lewis said, caused the devil to become the devil?

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Should Air Conditioning Be Banned?

Now that the summer weather is here, more and more people are complaining about air conditioning. No, they’re not complaining that their A/C unit cannot make the house cool enough. Instead, they’re complaining that air conditioning is bad for the environment. 

Well, guess what else is bad for the environment: B.O.

That’s right, if millions of people are sweating because climate activists want to restrict the use of air conditioning, those sweaty people are going to stink. If you have countless people giving off offensive smell rays, it ruins the environment. (By the way, “smell rays” are those wavy lines that cartoonists use to indicate something is stinky.)
All kidding aside, there actually are people fretting that air conditioning uses too much electricity, which hurts the environment. I suspect these are the same folks who use private jets and gas-guzzling limousines to criss-cross the globe trying to shame people for committing the sin of wanting to be comfortable. Whatever doom-and-gloom scenario these people are selling, I’m not buying. 

Now, full disclosure: I work in the air conditioning business. The company I work for sells commercial ventilation equipment. But you know what? Even if I worked in a completely different industry, I would still be a big fan of air conditioning. Why? Because I don’t particularly enjoy being awake the entire night, unable to fall asleep because I’m lying in a pool of my own sweat.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy website, “Air conditioners use about 6% of all the electricity produced in the United States.” That’s it: six percent. If you ask me, that’s a real bargain. 

I found an online news story with this headline: “‘Absolutely disastrous’: Air conditioners take horror toll on the environment, campaigners warn.” Yeah, you know what else takes a “horror toll” on the environment? Countless sweaty, smelly, uncomfortable people, many of whom faint or die from heat stroke. 

Forcing people to go without A/C is no different than forcing people to wear cardboard boxes on their feet instead of shoes. It’s a major leap backwards in technology and comfort.

Some of these activists point out that humankind survived for tens of thousands of years without air conditioning. That is true. Humankind also survived for tens of thousands of years without hospitals, antibiotics, clean drinking water, and Pop Tarts. During this long period of time without any modern conveniences, the average person lived to the ripe old age of 32. I prefer not to return to those days — especially the no Pop Tarts thing.

Something tells me the people complaining about the carbon footprint of the electricity used to run air conditioners never denounce the electricity needed to recharge their Teslas. Where do you think that juice comes from, the Electron Fairy?
If the carbon footprint of the electricity used to run air conditioning equipment is worrisome, let’s do something smart: phase out coal- and oil-fired power plants, and replace them with natural gas and nuclear power plants.

Another concern about air conditioning is the refrigerant gas in the systems, which occasionally leaks. Most experts say having those chemicals released into the atmosphere is not good for the environment. However, government regulators are taking steps to reduce the impact. One popular refrigerant is scheduled to be phased out on January 1st, 2025. The new refrigerant replacing it has a much lower global warming potential, but it is classified as “mildly flammable.” Hmm, that’s a curious term. Is that like being mildly unemployed or mildly pregnant?

Air conditioning is no longer a luxury. It’s now an important part of modern life. A/C also keeps us healthier, especially if we can minimize giving off offensive smell rays.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

More Thoughts On Purgatory

Last month I wrote about Purgatory. I explained that it is possible to avoid what I call God’s “attitude adjustment bootcamp” if we develop the correct spiritual attitudes while still on this side of eternity. The primary sinful attitude we need to shun is selfish pride, and the virtue that is opposite of pride is humility. I thought it was a fairly well thought out and clever essay (which proves that I still have way too much pride and not nearly enough humility).

Soon after that essay on Purgatory was published, I received an email note that said, “So, you’re saying that you are really humble and you’re not going to Purgatory, huh?”
Well, actually, I said nothing of the sort. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it lately, but the main reason I compose these essays is to remind myself of important theological concepts. I have received a lot of feedback over the years from people who tell me this Merry Catholic feature has helped their faith life. I’m very grateful whenever I can assist someone in their walk with Christ. But to be perfectly honest, I’m not a teacher, I’m not a preacher, and I have not been called to stand on the rooftops and proclaim the Good News for all to hear. (Besides, whenever I climb onto a roof, I get dizzy. So, that would not be a smart thing to do.) 

Whenever I get an idea and sit down at my computer, I am writing for myself. I am working through various spiritual concepts so that I can better understand and apply them to my life. When I’m done, I’ll post it online, but that’s not the reason I composed the piece in the first place. I did it to improve my own walk with Christ.

Years ago author Joan Didion said, “I write to find out what I think.” That is so true for me. Many times I’ve had an idea I wanted to explore, and I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted to say. But then when I started writing, along with doing a little research and reviewing various Scripture passages, I discovered my original thoughts were somewhat offbase. As I typed away and tried to logically explain something, I came to understand a whole new aspect of that topic. I truly did find out what I thought by sitting down and writing. Whenever that happens, it’s a little exciting and very humbling. I think to myself, “Wow, this is an interesting new take on this subject.” And then I add, “But man, my previous view was way off base!”
So, to answer the email I received: no, I was not saying that I am really humble, nor did I claim that I will avoid Purgatory. I understand far too well that I have a lot of selfish pride. I judge others and compare myself to them constantly. When I do that, I immediately understand that it’s wrong, but I can't help myself.

Regarding Purgatory, if I drop dead before finishing this sentence, then I’m sure– uhh, uhh, aaaaack…… 

No, just kidding. I didn’t croak. Not yet, anyway. What I was trying to say before I was so rudely interrupted by myself, is this: If I have to stand before God in judgment now, I am definitely going to spend time at the “attitude adjustment bootcamp.” Right now I’m too self-centered and too judgmental. I will definitely need Purgatory to excise all those bad traits from my soul.

The whole point of my essay last month was the fact that we do not necessarily have to spend time in Purgatory after we die. If our souls are pure, we can go straight to Heaven. If we work at being more humble now, then maybe we won’t have to go to bootcamp later. At my current rate of improvement, I should be all set in about 196 more years. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Insects and Spiders and Bugs, Oh My!

The other day I was driving back to the office after a meeting. The car radio was on, but I was spacing out. Then the DJ mentioned a statistic that caused me to pause and say, “Wait, what?” I didn’t quite hear, but it sounded like he said for every single human being on earth, there are millions, or maybe billions, of insects. 

I was curious about what the DJ actually said. So, when I arrived at the office, the first thing I did was ignore a bunch of voice messages waiting for me, plus a load of urgent emails, plus the promise I made to call a client the moment I got back to my desk. Instead, I did what any responsible engineering sales guy with a to-do list a mile long would do: I did a Google search for earth’s human-to-bug ratio. 
Depending on which scientific organization you prefer to trust, the answer is anywhere from 1.4 billion to 2 billion insects and other bugs per person. When I read that statistic, my first thought was: Eww, that’s a lot of creepy, crawling critters on this planet. My second thought was: I don’t feel so bad anymore for not using a paper Dixie Cup to scoop up an insect on the floor and take it outdoors, as my wife encourages me to do. My method when seeing an insect in the house is a bit more blunt and final — especially for the bug. I still have to go outside, of course, to scrape bug goo off the bottom of my shoe.

When I did that Google search, a bunch of other bug-related fun facts appeared on my computer screen, most of which I really wish I had not seen. For example, I bet you didn’t know that human beings eat insects. And I don’t mean certain foreign cultures that incorporate insects into their local cuisine. I mean human beings who have no desire to eat insects, such as you and me. Every person in the U.S. unknowingly consumes, on average, one-and-a-half pounds of insects per year. At first, I thought bugs must be getting into the machinery in food processing plants, and then are mixed into hot dogs and other products. However, the insects that enter our digestive systems without us knowing it come mostly from fruits and vegetables. See? I always knew hot dogs were better for us than veggies.
Here’s another fun fact: the average human being has 1.5 million bugs living on him or her. When I first read that, I exclaimed, “Nope, not me. I have a bubble bath every day. I’m bug-free!” Well, I read a little further, and it turns out I am NOT bug free. Not even close. There are microscopic critters called “mites.” Mites are in the arachnid family, which means they are the cousins of spiders and scorpions. And mites are all over our bodies, feasting on dead skin cells. I get a really uncomfortable feeling just thinking about that. But not nearly as uncomfortable as the feeling I get when my mind wanders and I imagine my body being covered with 1.5 million spiders and/or scorpions. I’ve never been a big fan of horror movies, and I’m definitely not a big fan of the idea that tiny horror films are taking place on my body 24/7.

So, I think we all know what the moral of this story is: whenever you’re driving back to the office after a meeting, keep the radio off. And when you arrive at the office, dig into that to-do list rather than doing a nightmare-inducing Google search. Then at lunchtime, enjoy your peanut butter and cricket sandwich. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Should Christians Watch Violent Movies?

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offered this important spiritual observation: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Well, Jesus didn’t say it exactly that way. The phrase is popular in the computer software world, and it means if you start with incorrect data, you’re going to end up with incorrect results.

This concept is mentioned in the Bible, sort of. In his epistle to the Romans, St. Paul wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). And in his letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote, “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Col 3:2).

Paul meant that if we fill our minds with unwholesome thoughts, we will end up living unwholesome lives. In other words, Garbage in, garbage out.
This idea came up recently when I read an article on a Christian website that said believers should not watch movies with bad values. The article specifically mentioned James Bond movies.

Is it wrong for a Christian to watch James Bond movies? Um, asking for a friend.

It’s an undeniable fact that James Bond movies glorify violence, alcohol abuse, and sexual promiscuity. I guess you could make the same statement about three-quarters of all the movies and TV shows produced these days.

So, I guess the question is, can we watch popular entertainment without some of its unwholesome values seeping into our souls?

Well, I’ve watched a lot… er, I mean, my friend has watched a lot of James Bond movies over the years. And he doesn’t go around blowing things up and shooting people every 15 minutes. He hasn’t had a drink in almost four decades, and he has never cheated on his lovely wife.
But can he really say he has not been subtly influenced by all the coarse themes depicted in James Bond films, along with all the other secular content he watches, reads, and listens to?

Hmm, that’s hard to say.

And speaking of “listen to,” what about popular music that is not very wholesome? I’m reminded of that classic song with a nice melody but horrible lyrics: “Imagine,” by John Lennon. The song opens with these words: “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky.”

The song is pretty much the Atheist Anthem. It’s about as ungodly as it gets. And this song is played frequently on my favorite Catholic radio station, along with many other well-known pop songs. I’m pretty sure faithful Catholics do not hear this song and suddenly renounce their religious beliefs and embrace Mr. Lennon’s unattainable dream of godless utopia.

In addition to enjoying James Bond movies, I also… er, I mean, my friend also likes listening to John Lennon and the Beatles. So far, my friend has not been tempted to try Eastern Mysticism, LSD, or comically odd hairstyles — as long as we ignore his 1975 high school yearbook photos.

As Catholics, we are not Bible-thumping fundamentalists who insist that watching any movie or having a single drink of alcohol are sinful behaviors and therefore prohibited. The Catholic Church teaches that alcoholic beverages are acceptable — in moderation. Alcohol abuse, however, is a sin.
The same, I suspect, is true for movies and music. If it’s occasional entertainment that doesn’t cause us to “conform to the pattern of this world,” as Paul described it, then it’s probably OK.

The Holy Spirit can help us discern what is best. If the only movies a person watches are in the James Bond genre, or if he or she only listens to coarse music, then maybe it’s become a “Garbage in, garbage out” situation, and it’s time instead to “think of what is above.” It might take some digging, but there is a fair amount of wholesome, uplifting entertainment available. 

I think I’ll give that a try… er, I mean, I think I’ll tell my friend.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

More (Tentative) Thoughts About Beta Males

Recently, I discussed “modalities of manhood,” a term I had never heard before. Using Greek letters, it’s a description of various traits men possess. I had heard the term “alpha male” in the past, often used to describe strong-willed leaders who take charge. But I didn’t realize there also are beta, gamma, delta, sigma, zeta, and omega males.


One website offered this definition of one of those categories: “Beta males are extremely kind and down to earth. Shyer and more reserved, beta males value personal relationships over material wealth or career achievements. They’re often associated with happy, long-term marriages. Betas are communicative, creative, and make great romantic partners.”
Not to brag (since beta males are humble), but of all the “modalities,” the description of beta male was the closest match to me. Well, after that column appeared in the newspaper, a reader sent me the link to a different website. Here’s the description of a beta male: “A man who is not as successful or powerful as other men. Someone who is perceived to be weak and unimpressive. ‘Beta’ is a slang insult for a man who is passive, subservient, and effeminate.”

Hey, wait a minute. I don’t like that definition at all. I think I’m going to contact that website and raise a ruckus. No wait, I hate confrontation and conflict. Instead I’ll just whine about it here. (Hmm, is that a sign of being a weak beta? Probably.)

I checked some other websites to see if I could find a more positive definition. A blog comment offered this take: “A beta male is the kind of wimp who would waste time looking up the definition of beta male.” Very funny, alpha dude.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I am not an alpha male. The few times in my life I’ve been in leadership positions — captain of the high school football team, supervisor of a department in a manufacturing facility, and the head of a customer service group — I was extremely uncomfortable. I preferred to be friends with those other people, not the guy who was supposed to scrutinize their work and demand better. I would actually wake up in the middle of the night with a knot in my stomach, fretting over a confrontation I needed to initiate the next day.
So, I am very blessed that my current job has no supervisory responsibilities. I’m kind of an independent operator within the company. And my part time job, writing essays for various publications, is a completely solo endeavor — not counting my wife’s input to correct all my grammatical errors and occasionally say, “Really? You want to reveal that about yourself in the newspaper?” I bet that’s the comment I’m going to hear when she proofreads this one.

As I’ve mentioned previously, when I retire from my full time job sometime in the near future, I have a bunch of ideas for books I’d like to write. After doing unexpected online research about “modalities of manhood,” I now have another book idea to add to the list. The title will be, “Confessions of a Proud Beta Male,” with this subtitle: “Well, not that proud, since pride is a sin.”

One chapter will be devoted to all the World Wars caused by beta males. It will be a short chapter, since the exact number is: zero.

The book will focus on the positive characteristics we betas possess. I’ll try to do my best not to make too much fun of arrogant alphas, but on the other hand, mocking people (from a distance) is kind of my superpower. Look for it in bookstores! It will be on the bottom shelf, hidden behind copies of the latest alpha male autobiography.