Tuesday, March 21, 2023

‘The Chosen’ Is a Remarkable TV Show

Have you heard about the TV series called “The Chosen”? It’s a fascinating show about the life of Jesus, and there are many unique features about it. First, it’s a crowd-funded streaming program. This means viewers who enjoy the show donate money, and when enough is collected, the producers begin filming the next episode. Right now, the show is in the middle of its 3rd season. Each of the first two seasons had eight episodes.

“The Chosen” is available to watch for free on the website of the production company, Angel Studios. It also can be watched on various streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Peacock.
Another unique feature of the show is that it really humanizes Jesus and His disciples. Over the years, many movies and TV shows attempted to portray the life of Christ, but often made everyone seem stiff and wooden. All the characters stood around proclaiming King James “thees” and “thous,” and they looked more like Shakespearean actors in clean costumes, rather than gritty fisherman and carpenters who lived in a harsh time and place. 

The producers and writers of “The Chosen” are devout Christians, and they make sure core doctrines of the faith are not watered down. Jesus is very human and relatable, but there is no doubt He also is the divine Son of God. And the miracles He performs are genuine miracles, not metaphors, illusions, or stories that got exaggerated years later. 

Because the show has multiple episodes, there is time to delve into the backstories of the characters. The series does a good job of staying faithful to the accounts of Jesus in the Bible, although they do take some artistic license regarding the chronology of events. And they do add a great deal of new information that fills in the gaps not mentioned in Scripture. Some of the background stories of the various characters are really interesting, and the writers of the show freely acknowledge that they completely invented these new narratives. Although these stories are not in the Bible, they never compromise the main message of God’s Holy Word. 
I’ve read a number of criticisms of “The Chosen.” Some fundamentalist Protestants claim the show is “too Catholic,” especially since the actor who plays Jesus, Jonathan Roumie, is a devout Catholic. Some Catholics say the show is “too Protestant,” because the creator of the show, Dallas Jenkins, is an Evangelical. Others criticize the program for adding to the events described in the Bible, and for sacrilegiously showing Jesus laughing. (Do they really think Jesus never laughed? Really? The Bible says Jesus is like us in every way, except sin. I’m pretty sure it’s not a sin to laugh.)

Obviously, you can’t please everyone, but the fact is, literally millions and millions of people have fallen in love with “The Chosen,” and quite a few, myself included, find that the show strengthens their faith life.

“The Chosen” reminds me of renaissance artwork. The gifted artists back in those days painted Jesus and other biblical characters so people could relate better to the Lord. When we see a beautiful depiction of Jesus, we can envision Him better in our minds and as a result feel closer to Him when we pray and meditate.
Hundreds of years ago, artists painted stunning images of Jesus’ life. The artists of today make videos and movies. The actors, writers, and producers of “The Chosen” have done an amazing job bringing Jesus to life in a very relatable and engaging way. Speaking personally, when I pray the Rosary now, I have two completely new images in my mind as I meditate on the Finding of Jesus in the Temple and the Wedding Feast at Cana, all because of how those events were depicted in “The Chosen.”

If you’ve never watched “The Chosen,” you should give it a try. Just go to www.angel.com and start watching. You don’t have to give them your email address or credit card number. That fact alone is a miracle from Heaven.

Friday, March 17, 2023

How Old Are You … In Your Head?

Here’s an interesting question: How old do you think you are in your head?

Please note, I’m not asking how old you actually are. Most of us already know that about ourselves. And if we’re not sure, we can look at our driver’s license and do the math. In my case, I subtract 1957 from 2023 and determine that I’m 166 years old. (Oh wait, that’s wrong. I’m not good at doing math in my head. The correct answer is 66, which, to a 25-year-old, is pretty much the same thing as 166.)

My original question is not the same as: How old do you feel? How we feel changes on an hourly basis. When I first wake up in the morning, I feel like I’m 75, especially with my creaky knees and back. But a while later, when I’m at the YMCA and swimming laps, about 10 minutes into my session I feel like I’m 40. Then, after finishing my 30-minute workout, when my legs and arms are tired and a little rubbery, as I try to climb out of the pool I feel like I’m 90.
By the way, over two months ago my New Year’s resolution was to join the Y and swim laps three times each week. Since this is the first time in forever that I’ve had a New Year’s resolution successfully continue past mid-January, I hesitate to even mention this little effort to get in better shape. I’m afraid I might jinx myself and by the time this essay appears in the newspaper I’ll have resumed my old morning exercise routine of weightlifting, specifically lifting a jumbo coffee with my left hand and a glazed cruller (or two) with my right hand. Anyway, getting back to the original question: How old do you think you are in your head? Medical professionals call this “subjective age,” and studies have discovered that most people over the age of 40 instinctively think they are about 20 percent younger than their actual age. 
In my case, that would be the low 50s, and that’s exactly how old I think I am. For example, when I look at the list of celebrity birthdays each day in the paper, if someone just turned 50, I think, “Oh, we’re the same generation.” Then I pause and realize the person is almost a full generation younger than me. And when I see that someone is in his or her mid-60s, I instinctively think, “Whoa, they’re old.” A moment later, it dawns on me that we’re the same age.

A similar thing happens if you attend a class reunion. You look around the room at all your former classmates and wonder how they all got so wrinkled and gray and stocky. Later on, when you look at some photos of the event, you’re genuinely surprised that you look exactly like everyone else.

I suspect a reason why I think in my head that I’m only in my early 50s is because it seems like it was about six months ago that I actually WAS in my early 50s. Time is flying by at breakneck speed nowadays. The past decade and a half have gone by in the blink of an eye.

I’m not sure how other people perceive the passing of time, but for me it’s accelerating like a freight train barreling down a mountain track with no brakes. The inevitable crash will be something.
The way things are going, I’ll probably wake up next Tuesday and discover I just turned 80. At that moment, in my head I’ll be convinced I’m only 60. It should be fine, as long as someone gives me a hand getting out of the pool.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The New ‘Second-Hand Smoke’?

I heard an interesting comment the other day. Someone said that Jesus is the new second-hand smoke. It was in reference to a couple of recent incidents. Back in early January, a man was ordered out of the Mall of America in Minnesota by security personnel. The man was told his tee-shirt was offending people, and so he had to leave. What was on his tee-shirt that was so rude? Two words: “Jesus Saves.”

Another incident occurred at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. A group of high school students were visiting the museum, and they each wore a distinctive light blue ski cap so they could easily recognize each other and not get lost in the crowd. However, the students were ordered by security to leave the museum because their ski hats were offending people. What was on their hats that was so disruptive? Two words: “Pro-Life.” (Or maybe that’s one hyphenated word.)
The students who got the boot were from a Catholic high school, and they were in DC for the annual “March for Life,” a demonstration by pro-life people who take God at His word when He said, “I formed you in your mother’s womb.” These folks sincerely believe abortion is the taking of an innocent life, and they peacefully and prayerfully make their views known every January. And they sometimes, if they’re high school students visiting DC for the first time, will set aside time to visit the Smithsonian museum. Except this time, they were kicked out.

So, the question is, has Jesus become the new second-hand smoke? In other words, does society grudgingly allow people to practice their Christian faith – in private – but they must not be allowed to do so near other people?

Not too long ago, I would’ve said, “What a silly question. Of course people are allowed to express their faith in Jesus in public. The Constitution’s first amendment guarantees the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say people have the right never to hear or see something they don’t like. Obviously, Jesus is NOT the new second-hand smoke.”
Well, nowadays I’m not so sure. Even though the Constitution says nothing about people having the right never to be offended, a sizable percentage of our society now acts as if that’s the case. 

Here is an expression that was popular in the United States in the recent past: “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” And people on all sides of various arguments – political, religious, cultural, etc. – were in agreement about this. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion were sacrosanct, and all sides of a debate believed the antidote for bad speech was good speech. In other words, if someone says something you disagreed with, the thing to do is offer a counter argument of your own to demonstrate that your view is superior. It was believed that everyone ought to exercise their God-given rights in the marketplace of ideas, and the most persuasive arguments would inevitably prevail.

That does not seem to be the case anymore, evidenced by the guy in the mall, the kids at the museum, and many other examples. 
Well, the question still stands: Is Jesus the new second-hand smoke? Unfortunately, it’s starting to look that way. But you know what? That’s nothing new. People were offended by Jesus 2,000 years ago. That’s why they killed Him. People have been offended by Jesus and His teachings for 20 centuries. 

Throughout history, the more people have tried to muzzle the Gospel message, the more it has spread. If you have faith in Christ, don’t hide it. Even if it means you cannot finish your shopping at the mall or look at Charles Lindbergh’s plane.

After all, who are we ultimately going to answer to, a bunch of thin-skinned secularists, or the Creator of the Universe?

A Course in ‘Financial Literacy’ Makes Good Sense

Recently, I read an article that discussed the requirement in some states that high school students must take and pass a course in “financial literacy” in order to graduate. The course is an explanation of the basics of personal money management, such as how to create a monthly budget, how to save for emergencies, how to get out of debt, and how to build wealth for the future.

I wish they had something like that when I was in high school, as this is kind of a sore subject in my family. Our kids, who are now adults, often remind my wife and me that we taught them nothing about personal finances when they were growing up. We reply, “No, we taught you everything we knew,” to which they exclaim, “Exactly! Because you knew nothing!”
Well, they’re not wrong. I left college with a degree in Business Management, and back then if you needed someone to explain to you how a large corporation could take accelerated depreciation on manufacturing equipment for tax purposes, I could do it. Or if you needed someone to tell you the difference between a Balance Sheet and a Profit & Loss statement, I could do that, too. And I was very knowledgeable about the details of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 (which has come in handy exactly zero times in the last four decades).

However, if the subject was personal finances, I was clueless. When I look back now, some of the things I believed about money management were delightfully naive. (I’m using the phrase “delightfully naive” because it sounds a lot better than “frighteningly stupid.”)

For example, when a bank issued me a credit card when I was 22, I didn’t quite make the connection between all the wonderful items I was purchasing and the fact I was going to have to PAY for them — with real money — at some point soon. Also, I couldn’t understand why a different bank was sending me nasty letters, filled with high-falutin’ words like “overdrawn” and “negative balance.” There can’t be a problem, I told myself, since I still had plenty of unused checks in my checkbook. I’m exaggerating here, of course. But unfortunately, I’m exaggerating only slightly. My comprehension of personal money management was truly non-existent. 
I don’t want to blame my parents for my lack of knowledge — even though my kids now blame me. My father gave me the best advice anyone could ever receive. He told me, “Get a job, show up on time everyday, and do what they tell you. If you do that, everything will work out.” 

He was right. Things did work out in the long run because I eventually followed his advice. But it would’ve been nice if he had explained to me what a monthly budget was, or if I faced the situation where there was “too much month at the end of the money,” then I either needed to decrease spending or increase income, rather than my preferred technique: have another beer or two (or 12) and vow to think about it some other time.  

I don’t know exactly what high schools are teaching in these new “financial literacy” classes. But whatever is being taught, it has to be better than nothing. If kids who graduate from high school know what a personal monthly budget is, and if they understand that a credit card is not the same thing as winning the lottery, then they’ll be in much better shape than I was with my “delightful naivete” (also known as “frightening stupidity.”)
And I’m pretty sure these kids' lives will not be ruined if they never learn the details of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Is Jesus Divine?

In an essay titled “The Divinity of Christ,” Dr. Peter Kreeft discusses the fact that believing in the Incarnation is a major stumbling block. Christianity proclaims that Jesus is fully God and at the same time fully man. Many of us were taught this basic doctrine as children and we don’t give it much thought nowadays. 

However, Dr. Kreeft reminds us that the Incarnation is one of the most incredible and scandalous things ever proclaimed. He writes, “That a man who was born out of a woman’s womb and died on a cross, a man who got tired and hungry and angry and agitated and wept at his friend’s tomb, that this man who got dirt under his fingernails should be God was, quite simply, the most astonishing, incredible, crazy-sounding idea that has ever entered the mind of man in all human history.”
When the first generation of Christians began preaching this message, Gentiles thought it was nonsense and Jews thought it was blasphemy. Gentiles laughed at the idea that a mere man could at the same time be the divine Creator of the Universe, and Jews raged at the insulting claim that the all-holy God had demeaned Himself by taking on human flesh.

Not much has changed in 20 centuries. When Christians proclaim the doctrine of the Incarnation these days, a sizable portion of our modern culture either laughs or rages. When Christians say they REALLY believe in the Incarnation, many folks roll their eyes and laugh, amazed that there are people in this modern, scientific world who still cling to ancient fairy tales. Others in our society rage at believing Christians. They are not angry for the same reason as the first century Jews, who thought Christian doctrines were gross insults to the all-mighty Deity. Instead, modern-day activists consider traditional Christianity a threat to the anything-goes Sexual Revolution™ that emerged in the 1960s, and therefore Christian morality must be marginalized.
There are some people in our world who attempt a balancing act: they embrace many Christian traditions but downplay the difficult doctrines, especially the Incarnation. These are the people, many of whom stand in church pulpits on Sunday mornings, who say that Jesus was a good and wise teacher, but not divine. 

People should embrace Jesus’ teachings on social justice, we are told, but ignore all that contentious “Jesus is God” stuff. (By the way, we SHOULD embrace Jesus’ teachings on social justice – the Sermon on the Mount is a good place to start – while emphasizing the “Jesus is God” stuff, too.)

However, as C.S. Lewis pointed out years ago, the one thing we cannot say is that Jesus was a good and wise teacher but not divine. Everything Jesus said and did rules out that conclusion. He either was a liar (claimed He was God but knew He wasn’t), or a lunatic (claimed incorrectly that He was God and really believed it), or the Lord (claimed He was God and it’s true). Those are the only three options: liar, lunatic, or Lord.

For those who like Jesus’ social teachings but can’t accept that He really is God, Dr. Kreeft offers a bold challenge: “Well, then, why not a lunatic or liar?”
Kreeft goes on to explain why it’s so hard to draw that conclusion: “But almost no one who has read the Gospels can honestly and seriously consider that option. The savviness, the canniness, the human wisdom, the attractiveness of Jesus emerges from the Gospels with unavoidable force to any but the most hardened and prejudiced reader.”

The thing is, people who are liars or lunatics are so predictable – and boring. Jesus was neither.

It would be nice if a person could be a Christian, even if he did not accept that Jesus is God. However, the Incarnation is a core and non-negotiable belief. If it’s not true, then Christianity is a feeble house of cards ready to collapse at the first mild breeze. If the Incarnation is true, if Jesus really is God, then all the claims of Christianity are true. It means Jesus’ death on the Cross really did pay the price for our sins and we can be forgiven. It means the Resurrection really did happen and Jesus conquered death once and for all. And it means we can spend eternity in the joys of Heaven if we put our faith in Christ.
So, there always will be some people who laugh or rage at the doctrine of the Incarnation. It’s just a fact of life. But since it is the core, fundamental fact of Christianity, we have to embrace the Incarnation no matter how many people mock or sneer.

The divinity of Jesus is the key that unlocks countless blessings, both in this world and in the world to come.

Some Advice from the Future

Here’s an interesting question to ponder: If you could go back in time and have a one-hour conversation with your 20-year-old self, what would you say?

For me, the urge would be strong to criticize the 20-year-old me. I’d want to yell, “You’re going to quit drinking before you turn 30, so you might as well do it now and stop making a fool of yourself. You’ll save a lot of grief over the next decade.” Or I’d say, “You have to stop being so selfish. Stop taking advantage of people. Stop skipping so many 8 a.m. classes. And start saving some money for retirement! Age 65 is gonna sneak up on you!” I’d probably add this bit of advice: “You’re going to have a major conversion experience and enjoy going to church a lot, so do it now rather than at age 28, which also will save a lot of grief.”
However, if I somehow could go back in time, I wouldn’t waste my breath saying those particular things. Why? Because I know it wouldn’t do any good. When I was 20, I already heard those things (except with a bit less specificity). Friends and family members routinely encouraged me to be more responsible and stop partying so much. But it went right in one ear and out the other. If the 65-year-old me had the ability to lecture the 20-year-old me, I’m certain the 20-year-old me would reply, “Stop hassling me, old man. And if you want to do something useful, how about buying me a beer?”

If I could speak with my 20-year-old self, maybe taking a more positive, encouraging approach would be better. I’d say, “You shouldn’t wait until your mid-30s to try your hand at writing. Then in the 21st century, your newspaper columns won’t have quite as many grammatical errors.”

Nah, that wouldn’t work either. When I was 20, I liked to read, but after a C-minus in English Composition 101, the idea that I someday would enjoy writing seemed about as likely as the Red Sox winning the World Series. 
The only effective thing I could do if it were possible to have a conversation with my 20-year-old self would be to help that dopey kid get rich. First, I’d say, “In a couple of years, the mighty Baltimore Orioles will be leading the Pittsburgh Pirates 3 games to 1 in the World Series. At that moment, bet everything you have on the Pirates. Then, a few years later, Villanova will be facing the mighty Georgetown Hoyas in the NCAA basketball finals. Bet everything you have on ‘Nova.

“Then, some years later, The UConn Huskies will be in their first ever Final Four, and going up against mighty Duke in the finals. Bet everything on UConn. Then, in 2004, the Red Sox will be losing to the mighty Yankees 3 games to nothing in the League Championship Series. At that moment, bet everything you have on the Sox. Oh, and while you’re at it, buy some stock in a company called Google. No, I can’t explain what that means. Just trust me.”

If I actually gave those sure bets to my 20-year-old self, I’m pretty sure he would ignore it at first. That’s because I’ve never been into gambling. But I’m hoping that by the time UConn faced Duke in the finals, my now 42-year-old self would say, “Hey, that weird old man was right!” 

Then, just maybe, he’ll heed my most important advice of all: “Kid, the only things that really count in life are faith, family, and friends. Focus on those, and you’ll be a happy man. But also, don’t forget to bet on the Sox in ‘04.” 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Why Do You Think They Call It ‘Dope’?

Like many other states, Connecticut is now “all in” regarding recreational marijuana. Many cannabis dispensaries (a fancy word for retail outlets) are opening up all across the state.

Right now 21 states have legalized recreational marijuana. Here in Connecticut our politicians feared that boatloads of potential tax dollars were flowing into nearby Massachusetts and New Jersey, which legalized pot a number of years ago. So, guided only by what is best for the citizens of the Nutmeg State (and from Hartford’s point of view, what is best, of course, is anything that will increase tax revenues), legislators made recreational marijuana legal here.
As someone with a strong libertarian streak, I’ve always thought the “war on drugs” was a losing battle, similar to having a “war on stopping the tide from coming in.” If people want to get high, they are going to get high, regardless of legal restrictions. (I believe Al Capone proved that a century ago.) So, we might as well decriminalize pot.

However, if a certain behavior produces serious negative side effects, then people in authority should at least make everyone aware of that. So far, I’ve heard public officials solemnly declare that marijuana will not be sold to anyone under age 21, but they act as if our “new normal” is not a green light for anyone and everyone to light up, regardless of age. What are the odds that a whole bunch of legally-sold pot does not find its way into the hands of teenagers? Right, the same odds as successfully stopping the tide from coming in.

Back when I was in school, decades ago, there was a public service campaign with a simple theme: “Why do you think they call it dope?” I admit the campaign did not in any way stop me from doing dopey things, but it was honest and blunt. That’s because it’s an absolute fact that smoking pot regularly reduces people’s cognitive skills and saps their drive and motivation. In other words, it turns them into spaced-out dopes. Do we really need MORE listless and irresponsible citizens? Just askin’.
Another aspect of legalized marijuana I have not heard any government officials mention, is the fact that the pot for sale these days is many times more potent than the stuff young people smoked back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. 

I read an article recently about problems in California where senior citizens are being floored (literally) by new, super-potent pot. Many seniors, who smoked dope back in college, have begun to smoke pot again in retirement. But since today’s cannabis is so much stronger than they remember, many users are experiencing delirium, paranoia, and heart palpitations. Sometimes they just get dizzy and fall over and seriously injure themselves.

Additional factors, which weren’t present when these folks were in college, are 1) the reality that a person’s physical tolerance is much different at age 70 compared to age 20, and 2) the fact most seniors take multiple prescription medications, which sometimes interact poorly with cannabis.
The most memorable quotation in the article came from one of the California “silver smokers” who exclaimed, “This ain’t Woodstock weed!”
In 2019 alone, over 12,000 senior citizens in California were taken to Emergency Rooms because of adverse reactions to smoking marijuana. Twelve-thousand! I don’t remember any politicians in Hartford mentioning this statistic when they were joyfully announcing that we were legalizing recreational pot use.

As I mentioned earlier, the “war on drugs” is a losing battle, so I truly believe cannabis possession should not be a criminal offense. But it would be nice if someone in authority reminded citizens that the question asked 50 years ago is still pertinent: “Why do you think they call it dope?”