Wednesday, October 28, 2020

It’s a ‘Privilege’ to Know Dr. Boyd

I’m not a big fan of the term “white privilege.” If something is supposedly available to two-thirds of the population, then that’s not really the definition of the word privilege. Maybe the term “white privilege” just caught on because it’s an easier slogan than the phrase “people of color disadvantage.” 

Oh wait. Did you think I was trying to make the case there is no systemic racism in America?

This is how I define the term “people of color disadvantage” (or if you insist, “white privilege”): In my entire life, every time I applied for a job or met with a potential new customer or talked with a bank loan officer, the assumption was that I had good character — until I proved overwise. However, if I were black, then in those exact same situations the assumption would be that I had poor character — until I proved otherwise.
Imagine every personality-shaping interaction you ever had since childhood — with neighbors, teachers, store owners, landlords, cops, delivery drivers — and in every case the other person automatically assumed you were less intelligent, less ambitious, less trustworthy, and ultimately less likely to succeed, just because you had dark skin.
 
While all my fellow pale suburban kids were going through the race of life jogging merrily downhill, you were competing in the same race of life, but running uphill. That’s quite a handicap to endure, day in and day out, year in and year out.
After all these decades, I know myself well enough to acknowledge that if I had faced that kind of disadvantage throughout my life, I would have given up a long time ago. You see, I simply do not have the character of Jackie Robinson, or the perseverance of Joel Boyd.

Jackie Robinson I know, but who is Joel Boyd? Ah, I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you about Dr. Joel Boyd.
 
Many years ago I went off to college with the twin goals of getting an education and playing football. I had been fairly successful on the gridiron in high school, although it was pretty much a suburban pencil-neck geek whitebread league.
 
One of my fellow freshmen on the team was a guy named Joel Boyd. He was strong and fast, and soon distinguished himself as a terrific tailback. Also, he was black, which allowed me subconsciously to check off a number of stereotype boxes. 
 
While I was devoting some of my efforts toward football and academics, and a LOT of my efforts toward partying, Joel was not only wracking up impressive statistics on Saturday afternoons, but was also studying really hard as a pre-med major.

After medical school, Boyd became an orthopedic surgeon. Eventually he became the team physician for the Minnesota Vikings and in 1998 was named the first ever African-American team doctor for the U.S. Olympic hockey team. 

Surgeon and hockey fan? Hmm, those items were not on my stereotype checklist at all.
Joel Boyd MD is one of the many people I’ve known over the years who shattered the stereotypes that were subtly taught to me during my suburban upbringing. There’s not a single person I’m related to who is as intelligent, hard-working, or successful as Dr. Boyd. And he did it while running the proverbial race uphill, while we were jogging downhill. I guess that means the term “white privilege” is appropriate after all. 

I wish I knew how to solve the chronic racial strife our country is experiencing. All I know is that whenever I’m tempted to embrace some of the old fear-inspired stereotypical ideas from my past, I just think of Dr. Joel Boyd. Then I realize that talent and character and perseverance know no racial boundaries. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

A Sad Chapter in Catholic History

 I just finished reading a fascinating book called “Light One Candle,” an autobiography by Holocaust survivor Solly Ganor. This is not a review of the book, but I highly recommend it. One aspect of the story, however, really jumped out at me. In European countries, just as World War II began, there was so much distrust and resentment toward Jewish people, the brutal Nazi invaders had no trouble recruiting local Catholics to do a lot of their dirty work. These roving bands of sadistic young men dragged entire Jewish families from their homes, and then marched them into nearby forests where they all were shot dead and tossed into mass graves.

 
In many cases, the blood-thirsty natives who collaborated with the Nazis justified their actions by claiming that the Jews were “Christ killers.” That is, all Jews throughout history were responsible for Jesus being crucified. As I read the book, I’m not sure which made me more sick to my stomach: the stark brutality of the hate-filled murderers, or their pathetic attempt to justify their actions as a holy defense of Jesus’ honor.

So, to summarize, these Catholics claimed the violent murder of innocent people was done to honor the Prince of Peace. Umm, sure.

Anti-semitism has been a persistent problem in Europe for centuries. And by the time the war broke out in 1939, there had been six or seven years of intense Nazi propaganda that blamed the Jews for all the ills of the world. A key component of this propaganda was the idea that Jews were untermensch, “sub-human.” Ridding a town of Jews was thought to be no different than ridding a building of cockroaches. This mindset allowed many church-going Christians and Catholics to commit heinous atrocities with very few pangs of conscience.
 
By the way, labeling a group of people as “sub-human” allowed slavery to flourish in the United States for so many generations. Watch Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis, and pay close attention to the way congressmen — even the ones from the North — described black people. It’s clear they had been brain-washed to view all people from Africa as some curious animal hybrid, that is, sub-human.
Anyway, as a Catholic, I felt a great deal of shame reading about European Catholics who willingly committed mass murder by insisting they were just giving those sub-human “Christ killers” what they deserved.

It’s true the Catholic Church has a checkered history regarding Jewish people. Anti-semitism and that “Christ killer” label were used to justify all kinds of horrible things over the centuries, including the Spanish Inquisition. But the official Church has repeatedly declared — at the Council of Trent in the 1500s, at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1994 — that Jewish people are not and never have been responsible for Jesus’ death on the cross.
 
Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers, at the insistence of certain religious leaders in Jerusalem who felt threatened by His message and His popularity. But the Lord was not “killed by the Jews.” What put Jesus on the cross was the sin of mankind. He was killed by sin, our sin. To claim that Jewish people living in Europe in 1939 (or in the U.S. in 2020) were responsible for a particular execution that took place almost 2,000 years earlier is one of the stupidest ideas ever. Unfortunately, this stupid idea took hold and became one of the deadliest ideas ever.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul wrote, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? Of course not! For I too am an Israelite….God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew….thus all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:1,2,26).
 
Jesus Himself said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If Jesus forgave the handful of people who, in ignorance, maneuvered to have Him executed, then we had better not place blame. If we want to blame someone for killing Jesus, we only need to look in the mirror.
 
And for God’s sake, please don’t ever classify any group of people as sub-human. That always, always, ALWAYS leads to horror.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

I Say, Old Chap, the Brits Can be Bloody Awful

 During a recent rainy weekend, I had a movie marathon and watched the following films: “Braveheart,” starring Mel Gibson as William Wallace, the Scottish commoner who led his people in battle against the oppressive English. Then I watched “The Patriot,” also starring Mel Gibson, as a South Carolina farmer during the Revolutionary War, who fought against the oppressive British. Then I watched “Gandhi,” starring Ben Kingsley as Mahatma Gandhi, who led the people of India in their struggle to gain independence from the oppressive British. Finally, I watched “Michael Collins,” starring Liam Neeson as the man who inspired the Irish people in their quest for freedom from the oppressive British.

Anybody notice a theme here? When Sunday night rolled around, and my bleary-eyed movie marathon finally was over, I had a singular and powerful thought: “Man, the British are a bunch of jerks!” 

Each of the four films contained graphic scenes of brutality, inflicted by British troops against innocent civilians. Now obviously, Hollywood depictions of historical events are often, shall we say, embellished for dramatic effect. But it’s an undeniable fact that over the centuries the folks from that tiny island nation in northwest Europe had a nasty habit of traveling to far-flung parts of the world and oppressing the hell out of anyone they happened to encounter. And they did it with an arrogant attitude of, “Well, of course, old boy, it is our destiny to rule over these lowly savages.”

Besides those four particular films that portray the British Empire as ruthlessly thuggish, have you ever noticed that some of Hollywood’s most sinister characters have British accents? The American Film Institute picked the top 100 movie villains, and Number One on the list was Hannibal Lecter in “Silencer of the Lambs,” played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. There was nothing in the story to indicate that the murderous and manipulative Dr. Lecter was anything but American. But who did they pick to play the part? A renowned English stage actor. Why? Because his voice just sounded creepier.
The Number Three villain on the list is Darth Vader, from “Star Wars.” But wait, that character was voiced by James Earl Jones, an American icon. Right, but who was the one person Darth Vader bowed down to? Emperor Palpatine, the most wicked Dark Lord who ever lived. And who played that character? It was Ian McDiarmid, a Scottsman with years of experience on the British stage. 

A couple of memorable movie villains are Dr. Szell in “Marathon Man,” played by Laurence Olivier, and Hans Gruber in “Die Hard,” played by Alan Rickman. Both characters were supposed to be German, but in each case the person chosen to play the part was a classically trained British actor. 

Who can forget Scar in “The Lion King,” voiced by Jeremy Irons? I don’t think many animals on the African plains speak with British accents, but for this film, the bad guy just had to sound aloof and haughty and sinister. If you’re skeptical, I have two words for you: Christopher Lee.
Anyway, I never realized motion pictures portray the British so often as being evil. (Sometimes fictitiously, sometimes dead-on true.) Since my recent movie marathon stirred up so much anger in me toward the British, the next time it rains on the weekend, I’m going to counteract my anti-British emotions by watching these movies: “The King’s Speech,” “Darkest Hour,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” and “Mary Poppins.” (Although I understand Dick Van Dyke’s horrible cockney accent almost caused Britain to declare war on America once again.)

If there’s time, I’ll throw in a little Monty Python and Benny Hill, and then I’ll be able to relax and say, “Cheerio, old boy. Good show.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

What Did Jesus Know and When Did He Know It?

There’s an old expression, which I first heard during the Watergate scandal in the 1970s: “What did he know, and when did he know it?”

Regarding the Watergate situation, this question was asked about President Nixon, as investigators wanted to know how much he knew about the crime and cover-up, and when did he become aware of it. 
I’ve also heard this question asked in more mundane situations, such as a miscommunication at work when someone, possibly me, gave a truck driver the wrong delivery address. Regarding the incorrect information, the question was asked, “What did he know, and when did he know it?” In this particular case, I could honestly answer, “Nothing” and “Never.”

This classic question is often asked about Jesus. It’s a fascinating discussion to ponder what exactly Jesus knew about His ministry and destiny, and when exactly He knew it.

We learn from Scripture that Jesus is the “Word” through Whom all things were created. We know Jesus proclaimed that He saw Satan cast out of Heaven, which occurred way before Adam and Eve even lived.

We also know from Church teachings and Tradition that Jesus is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and that He has existed one-in-being with the Father and Holy Spirit from all of eternity.

But we also know that Jesus willingly lowered Himself to take on human flesh. When He was born of the Virgin Mary, surely as a little infant He did not know His true identity yet. And as, say, a 7-year-old boy, He most likely did not know exactly what would happen to Him in Jerusalem at age 33. He did not know He would be arrested, tortured, and nailed to a tree, and then three days later rise from the dead conquering death once and for all and reconciling sinful mankind back to the Almighty Creator.
If we fast-forward to the final months of Jesus’ earthly life, the gospel accounts make it clear that Jesus did know what ultimately would happen to Him in Jerusalem and why. By the time He was in active ministry, He predicted His passion and death, and He explained how it would usher in a new covenant of forgiveness and mercy for all humanity.

So, the question is, during the time between Jesus’ childhood and His adult ministry, what did He know about His identity and mission, and when did He know it?

Was He aware of His destiny when He was 13, or 18, or 26? Did He find out all at once, when the Father in Heaven gave Him a crash course on His future? Or was it slowly revealed to Him in bits and pieces?

By the way, just so you’re not disappointed at the end of this essay, I have no idea of the answers to these questions. I’m asking now simply as an interesting topic for discussion. 

And while we’re pondering unanswerable questions, I wonder if Jesus was stunned and a little horrified when His destiny became clear. Did He, as comedian Jim Gaffigan quipped, look toward Heaven and say, “OK, pop, that crucifixion thing is an interesting idea. But hear me out. How about instead we do it ANOTHER way?”
My list of questions to ask God when I get to Heaven (most likely after a detour through Purgatory for a few millennia) is getting rather long. I’m up to over 4,500 questions, many of which are situational variations of, “What are women really thinking?” 

A couple of questions I have to add to the list are, “What did Jesus know?” and, “When did He know it?”

Fortunately, it’s not necessary that we have the answers. The most important thing is that we know who Jesus is, and what He’s done for us. That’s the heart of the Gospel message. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Contentious ‘Op-Ed’ Days

 I bet you didn’t know that years ago I was an opinion columnist. For quite a while my essays appeared about once per month on the op-ed pages of this newspaper.

 
Usually, I wrote about the two subjects my mother told me never to discuss in polite company: religion and politics. The pro-life and pro-captialism views I expounded back then were shaped by my Catholic faith and my experience in the business world. 

If you never read my opinion columns, oh, I was clever. Darn clever. I was gifted in the art of the “straw man” argument. I could take a complex topic and boil it down to a simplistic black-or-white, either-or summary. Then I would set up that “straw man” and bash him to pieces with witty and sarcastic insults.
Some of my favorite targets back in the day were Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and Christopher Dodd. Using words alone, I could draw a buffoonish picture of these guys that would make an editorial cartoonist proud.

My columns generated plenty of feedback. Those who agreed with me sent notes exclaiming how witty I was, and those who disagreed informed me that I was identical to an earthworm, except not quite as smart. 

But after many years of writing those opinion columns, a funny thing happened: I got tired of reading my own stuff. It wasn’t that I thought the topics were unimportant. It’s just that my one-sided arguments were becoming tedious, even to me. So, if I was sick of my stuff, then what were the odds people reading the newspaper would find it interesting?
 
At that time, two things became clear to me. First, in all the time I wrote those cleverly caustic cultural commentaries, I had not changed a single person’s mind. And second, there were professional writers on the op-ed pages who were making the same points, but doing it way more effectively. 
Finally, I decided that I should leave that task to the professionals. From then on I concentrated on my Friday humor column to see if I could bring a little levity to a world that had gotten way too serious and angry. Although, admittedly, my snarkalepsy still kicks in on occasion. 

I’m pretty sure I made the correct choice. After I stopped submitting opinion essays to the newspaper, I received exact zero notes wondering why I wasn’t on the op-ed pages anymore. Ah, the public. They’ll always let you know how much of an impact you are making.

About the same time I stopped writing opinion essays, a new phenomenon burst onto the scene: social media. It turned out I was a piker when it came to sarcastic straw man arguments. The creation of Facebook and Twitter made it possible for anyone with a computer to proclaim obnoxious opinions to the whole world.  

In looking back at my op-ed days, by today’s standards it was all rather quaint. I never referred to anyone I disagreed with as literally Stalin, and no one ever accused me of being literally Hitler. In today’s toxic world of social media, those are the mild accusations. 

My advice to anyone caught up in the nasty back and forth of social media is to ask yourself a couple of questions: Have you ever changed a single person’s mind with your biting and witty political comments or by reposting other people’s biting and witty political memes? (Magic 8 Ball says, “Not likely.”) Which leads to my second question: Is it really worth it to lose half your friends by viciously attacking anyone who doesn’t think exactly like you?
To paraphrase a once-famous person: What does it profit a man to gain a hundred “likes,” and yet lose his soul?

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Communion of Saints Are Praying for Us

 I was planning to write some interesting stories about my relatives who have passed away. You see, there have been some rather eccentric and colorful characters in my family tree. The wild adventures they engaged in don’t even need any exaggeration. I figured since they are no longer with us, they can’t complain if I reveal a few hilarious, if somewhat embarrassing, details from the past.


But then I remembered: I can’t write about my deceased aunts and uncles and grandparents because I’m Catholic. As a Catholic, I believe in the Communion of Saints. By the way, even if I were not Catholic, I’d have to believe in the Communion of Saints because it says so right in the Bible. 
Well, you won’t find the specific phrase “Communion of Saints” in the Scriptures. But the epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament lists many famous saints who are now in Heaven, and then offers this remarkable statement: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb 12:1). 

In other words, the folks who went before us in faith, that great cloud of witnesses in Heaven, are watching us. It’s as if they’re in the grandstands of a sports stadium, cheering for us as we compete on the playing field.

So, my wacky ancestors are not really gone. They are in the Lord’s heavenly kingdom, and they are paying close attention to us down here. I guess I’ll have to save those embarrassingly funny stories for another time—most likely when I finally join my relatives in the Heavenly bleachers. When that reunion occurs, we are going to have quite a few belly laughs, most of which, I suspect, will be at my expense since they’ve been keeping an eye on me all these years.
The Communion of Saints is a fascinating truth, and many Christians ignore it. Most believers are confident that those who died in faith are now in Heaven, but they think their loved ones are hidden away in some far distant outpost of the heavenly universe, completely out of wifi range to be able to observe us today. (OK, there is another aspect of all this that I should mention here: the Church’s teaching about Purgatory. Those who die in God’s grace, but with a lot of sinful baggage still clinging to them, must have their selfish attitudes and bad habits washed away before entering into the perfect joy of God’s presence. This purifying process is called Purgatory. The good news is that everybody who goes to Purgatory eventually ends up in Heaven for all eternity. We’ll have to examine this topic in more detail some day in the future.) 

Those who have gone before us are not out of touch and unaware of events back here on earth. They are in a mysterious and wonderful state-of-being right now, where they are aware of us—our joys and our fears, our triumphs and our struggles. Most of all, their main job is to pray for us, because Scripture says, “The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful” (James 5:16).

The Bible also tells us repeatedly to pray for one another. Who best to intercede on our behalf than those who already fought the good fight here on earth and now are in the presence of the Lord? Instead of telling humorous and somewhat embarrassing stories about my ancestors, I instead should thank them for teaching me the faith, and then ask them to continue praying that I, and all my loved ones, fight the good fight and win the race. 
So, this means I am going to refrain from telling you some of the goofy and comical things that my departed relatives did during their lives here on earth. If you want to hear those tales, ask me when we get to Heaven. I’ll be in the bleachers with my family. You’ll be able to find us easily since we’ll be the ones laughing hysterically.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Cheese Lover Makes Cabot a Habit

 There are many milestones in people’s lives, such as the day they were born, graduation(s), marriage, and the birth of children. For me, in addition to these common experiences, I can add the following milestone events: the day I was fired for drinking on the job, the day I became a Christian, the day I quit drinking, the day the Red Sox finally won the World Series, and the day I found out I was lactose intolerant. Every one of these incidents had a profound impact on my life. 

Recently, another milestone event occurred for me. I was making a sales call at an engineering firm. (Relax, we were masked up and socially distant, and they took my temperature before I was allowed in the building.) When our conversation drifted away from HVAC topics, which happens occasionally — I’d say approximately 100% of the time — one of the engineers said, “Well, you know, all Cabot cheeses are naturally lactose-free.”

I can’t remember why our conversation drifted to the topic of cheese, but those words hit me like a ton of bricks. You see, being lactose intolerant, I have not had cheese in over 25 years — not counting the times I accidentally ate some cheese and then spent the remainder of the family picnic or business conference locked in the bathroom.

The thing is, I love cheese. It’s been quite a sacrifice for me to give up cheese for almost three decades now.
 
I stammered and said, “Wait, what did you just say?”

The engineer replied, “Yes, it's true. The way Cabot processes their cheese removes all the lactose. You should have no problem eating Cabot cheese, Bill.”
I was so overjoyed at these words, I felt light-headed. I had to sit down before I fainted. It was the same tidal wave of happiness that washed over me on August 23th, 1981, when the prettiest girl in town said yes when I asked her to marry me; and again on October 27th, 2004, when Keith Foulke got the final out, which clinched the first Red Sox championship in 86 years. To those milestone dates I now can add September 18th, 2020, the day Jordan Politz, engineer extraordinaire, informed me of the glorious fact that the folks at Cabot sell cheeses that I can eat without becoming sick.

The very next day I went to the supermarket and came home with a package of Cabot Smoky Bacon Cheddar, which displayed a “Lactose-free” logo on the back. I waited until my schedule was free for the rest of the day, just in case things went awry. I cut up some of the cheese and ate it on Triscuits. Six hours later there still were no ill effects, not counting the smile that I could not wipe from my face.
Cabot should create a marketing campaign that targets the approximately 50 million Americans who are just like me: left-handed Red Sox fans. No wait, I mean, who are lactose intolerant.

This has been such a wonderful discovery, I had to write a song parody. You can sing these lyrics to the tune of “America the Beautiful”:

Oh beautiful, this Cabot cheese
With amber colored chips
The yummy cheddar flavored bites
That pass across my lips
Oh lactose-free, oh lactose-free
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy Gouda
With brotherhooda
From cheese to tasty cheese

Oh beautiful, for Swiss and Brie
And Mozzarella warm
Now Feta, Bleu, and Muenster, too
No longer do me harm
Oh lactose-free, oh lactose-free
God loves me, now I know
And fills my soul
With fine queso
And luscious Provolone