Friday, March 27, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week

Results from the 2014 General Social Survey were released a few days ago. A majority of Americans say they want the government to spend more money. And a majority of Americans say they want the government to lower taxes.

Wait. What?! Didn’t anyone get at least a C-minus in Math Class?! The government is already spending WAY more money than they receive via taxes. Must be nice to have your own cash printing press. But we now have 18 trillion dollars of national debt, a burden that is guaranteed to cripple our economy and standard of living for generations to come.

Oh, now I think I understand the survey results. A majority of Americans also say marijuana should be legalized. So basically, our country has turned into Jeff Spicoli. “Dude, I’m so wasted! And please take care of me, Mr. Government Bureaucrat!”

Thursday, March 26, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Thursday afternoon

I am grateful that I like my job. I’m not saying I’d go to work every day if I won the Lotto jackpot (which is unlikely since I don’t buy lotto tickets). I’m just saying my current job does not suck the life out of me and crush my will to live. Wow, what a ringing endorsement!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Odd Thoughts Cause Sliver And Shiver

Sometimes I have odd thoughts. And other times I have thoughts I wish were merely odd. For example, last week I was engaged in my regular morning routine (the key word here is “regular”), and it occurred to me that for the vast majority of mankind’s existence on this planet, human beings did not have access to flush toilets.

Since I had my iPad handy at the moment, I did a quick search and discovered that flush toilets began to be used sometime around the mid-1800s. (But it wasn’t until the late 1800s that someone realized a good way to check on the previous night’s basketball scores was to bring an iPad into the bathroom.)

This means that during the last 10,000 years of human history, flush toilets were only available for less than two-percent of the total time. That reminds me of growing up. We had seven people in the house and one bathroom, so quite often it seemed as if the toilet was available for less than two-percent of the time.

Before the second half of the 1800s, people had to answer nature’s call by going out into nature itself. Most homes had an outhouse in the yard, which was basically a hole in the ground with a little wooden shack built around it. There was a plank with a hole cut in the middle. Whoa, can anyone say “sliver”?

On the morning when I had this excessively odd thought, it was exactly 7 degrees outside. (I knew that by checking the Weather app on my iPad.) I envisioned how awful it must’ve been to visit an outhouse first thing in the morning when it was only 7 degrees. Whoa, can anyone say “shiver”?

Worse yet, there’s a good chance typical outhouses in the 19th century and earlier were not within Wi-Fi range, so you couldn’t even check the previous night’s basketball scores while slivering and shivering.

I continued reading about the history of toilets and discovered that outhouses were used in rural areas, where there was enough property to locate them away from the main house. But in the cities there wasn’t enough room, so instead people used chamber pots. I pondered what that must’ve been like, and suddenly it seemed that slivering and shivering out of Wi-Fi range wasn’t so bad after all.

A few other nuggets of information:

Toilet paper first went on sale in the U.S. in 1857, and was sold in large sheets. Paper in roll form didn’t go on sale until 1890. And moments later the first family argument ensued about whether it should be installed with the paper coming from under or from over the top of the roll.

Toilet paper first went on sale in Europe in 1928. From what my friends who travel a lot tell me, France is still waiting.

My fascinating research was interrupted by a knock on the door, then my wife yelled, “Are you OK?!”

Oops, I guess I got distracted — again. As I hurried to get ready for work, I heard mumbling, which included something about “Can’t believe he brings an iPad in there.”

Well, I was only a little bit late for work that day. But I learned a lot of interesting new facts, and more importantly, I developed a new appreciation for indoor plumbing and how fortunate we are nowadays compared to most people throughout history. I certainly will not take my porcelain pal for granted anymore.

I can’t wait to find out what my next odd thought might be. Maybe this: Did you know in the late 1800s people went the entire winter without taking a bath? Whoa, can anyone say “pungent”?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Tuesday afternoon

I am grateful my parish choir welcomes mediocre voices, and has enough good voices for me to hide behind. This allows me to be a very small part of a very big sound, especially next week when we sing the Lord’s praises on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter morning. Now, if I can keep from getting laryngitis this year…..

Monday, March 23, 2015

Time To Emphasize Sunday Obligation

A couple months ago we had unexpected freezing rain on Sunday morning. On the way to Mass I saw a car that had slid off the side of the road. When I arrived at church I pressed the brake pedal and my car just kept going, gliding down the icy road right past the entrance to the parking lot.

The roads were very treacherous, and not surprisingly Mass attendance was a fraction of what it usually is. As I looked around the mostly empty church, I started thinking about the phrase “Sunday Obligation.” I haven’t heard that term mentioned in quite a while. Our Church has a very clear teaching on the issue of Sunday Obligation, which not surprisingly, goes something like this: on Sundays Catholics are obligated to go to Mass. See, that isn’t so complicated, is it? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it’s a “grave sin” not to attend Mass on Sunday (or Saturday vigil Mass).

Now, of course, there are valid excuses for not attending Sunday Mass, such as illness, infirmity, family needs that can’t be helped (such as caring for a sick child), and employment responsibilities—but only when all other options have been exhausted. And obviously treacherous weather conditions are a valid excuse, too.

When I was a kid the nuns taught us that the word obligation comes from two Latin words, obli, which means “you had better,” and gation, which means “get to Mass or I’ll whack you with this ruler!” OK, maybe they didn’t exactly phrase it that way, but we got the message.

However, nowadays modern Catholics use a more sophisticated definition, deciding that the word obligation really means: “If I feel like it.” A lot of folks don’t even need the illness, employment, or icy road excuses. They simply declare, “I’m not going to Mass cuz I don’t feel like it.” And that’s that.

As I sat in the mostly empty church that icy morning, I wondered if Masses on sunny days in the near future would be as sparsely attended, since the trend continues to go in the wrong direction.

Why is Mass attendance plummeting, at least here in America? (Western Europe is even worse, by the way.) In recent decades I can’t remember any Church official boldly proclaiming that the term Sunday Obligation really means what it says.

After years of being accused of being “too authoritarian,” it seems the Church decided to take a different approach, beginning during the tumultuous 1960s. Instead of proclaiming, “You are OBLIGATED to go to Mass on Sunday!” the Church offered a new, gentle Mr. Rogers-like tone: “We hope you’ll want to join us at Mass on Sundays.”

Well, this is certainly a more gentle approach, but frankly, it ain’t working. Maybe it’s time once again for a bit firmer message. Not quite the authoritarian ruler-wielding nun approach, but maybe something with a tad more backbone, such as: “If you don’t go to Mass on Sundays, don’t blame me when Jesus kicks your butt!”

Yeah, OK, that’s not quite the correct tone either, is it? There’s got to be a way to communicate once again the clear message that the Sunday Obligation is a real thing, and there are truly eternal consequences for blowing off Mass each week. We really have to try something different. I mean, precious souls are being lost for all eternity.

Maybe there is a compromise somewhere in the middle, an approach that is both firm but gentle, urgent and yet loving. I’m thinking of a ruler-wielding Mr. Rogers. “Won’t you be my neighbor? Won’t you join me at Sunday Mass?” Whack!