Saturday, April 18, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Saturday evening

I am grateful that the old couch in my basement man-cave/office is incredibly comfortable. Perfect for an afternoon nap after spending all Saturday morning doing work in the yard. I’m also grateful for Chinese take-out, my favorite Saturday dinner option. Sometimes it’s the little things that are most enjoyable.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, April 17, 2015

Stevenson College in Santa Cruz, CA, recently sponsored a Science-Fiction event, called “Intergalactic Night.” At the event a buffet of Mexican food was available for the students. Soon after, the president of the college issued a heartfelt apology because this event was — wait for it — racist.

Wait. What?! The event was racist? How so? Were organizers insensitive to green Martians or non-human flying saucer pilots from galaxies far, far away? (But that would be specie-ist, not racist, right?) Well, here’s what happened: Intergalactic Night featured space aliens, and Mexican food might remind someone, especially in California, of undocumented people from Mexico, often labeled as “illegal aliens.”

Wow, a science fiction theme + a popular style of food = racism! That’s a two-step offense. You have to be in college just to follow the flow chart.

The college president, Dr. Carolyn Golz, wrote a letter to the entire student body, and explained that the event organizers did not in any way intend to make the connection between space aliens and illegal aliens. However, “our College Night appeared to do exactly that.” (Appeared to who? Someone with an advanced degree in professional victimhood?) Then Golz promised the college “will require cultural competence training for Programs staff, in addition to implementing mechanisms for future program planning that will ensure college programs are culturally sensitive and inclusive.”

Holy moly. Are these people for real? Are college student truly this fragile? What’s next, fainting couches?

Here’s a little prediction: this episode will terrify college event organizers all over the country. As a result, they will avoid serving Mexican food ever again. And soon after, these same event organizers will be labeled as racists, who are prejudiced toward Mexican culture because of the absence of Mexican cuisine. Just wait for it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Thursday evening

I am grateful that I have a company car that is very, very reliable—and fairly comfortable, too. Just got home minutes ago from a business trip to Toronto. Nine hours each way. Why did I drive? Round trip plane fare from Hartford to Toronto is over $1,000. I can go to Las Vegas and back for less than half that, so go figure.

Anyway, the trusty Chevy Equinox performed like a champ: no problems at all. The only glitch – but not a car glitch – happened when I crossed the border back into the U.S. The customs agent looked at my passport photo, which was taken seven years ago, and he said, “Wow, that’s an old photo!” I wanted to reply, “My hair may be turning white, but I least I have some, ya bald-headed stooge!” But since he had a firearm on his hip, I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders.

Glad to be home after all those hours behind the wheel. Now with any luck, I’ll regain some feeling in my keister by the weekend.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Final ‘Frontier’ of Customer Service

Last year a new company took over the phone service in our state. The name of this company may or may not rhyme with the phrase “Runt-Deer Communications.” And this company may or may not have a talking buffalo as the advertising spokesman/mascot. Since a buffalo is a big, lumbering creature with a brain the size of a Raisinet, I guess it’s an appropriate choice.

When the previous phone company, which may or may not rhyme with “Hey-hey and flee,” decided to focus exclusively on wireless service (21st century technology) and get out of the land-line business (19th century technology), they sold their land-line accounts to Runt-Deer.

When this change took place, I began to receive two separate invoices, and that’s when I realized I was paying $116 per month for a land-line phone we hardly ever use anymore, plus an Internet connection that would be considered high-speed — if this were the year 1996.

So I called the customer service phone number to see what could be done. After being on hold for a couple hours, I finally was told, “Oh, we can put you on a new plan that has much faster Internet speed and the same land-line service, all for half of what you’re paying now.”

I replied, “Um, so how many more months were you going to keep collecting my $116 before ever telling me about this new plan?” I didn’t really get a straight answer to my question.

In order to set up the faster Internet speed, I had to make an appointment for a service technician to come to my house. So we picked a date when I could be home all morning. When that day arrived I waited and waited, and no service tech ever showed up. Finally I called, and after being on hold for a couple hours, I was told, “Oh, it turns out we can make that change on our end, and we don’t need to come to your house.”

I replied, “Um, so how many more hours were you going to let me sit here twiddling my thumbs waiting for your guy to show up?” (Full disclosure: I rarely twiddle my thumbs. And I actually was getting work done from home, but they didn’t need to know that.) I didn’t really get a straight answer to my question.

When the Internet change was made, I noticed the Caller ID and voice mail functions on our land-line phone stopped working. So I called again. After being on hold for a couple hours (wow, what a surprise!), I was told it was a mistake, and those services would be re-activated right away. I asked if all my saved voice messages would be lost and whether I would have to set up my voice mail account from scratch. I was told everything would be preserved and there was nothing I needed to do.

So naturally, it turned out all the saved messages were in fact deleted, and I did have to set up the voice mail account from scratch. Another couple hours of my life wasted.

I have yet to receive my new revised invoice, but who will be surprised if Runt-Deer’s definition of “half of what I’m paying now” actually means “half of what I’m paying now FOR MY MORTGAGE”? But I’m sure if that happens it will be another simple mistake (as if anything is simple in the telecom business), which can quickly be corrected (which means NOT quickly corrected) by one or two or twelve phone calls. Then again, what should we expect from a big, lumbering creature with a brain the size of a Raisinet?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Grace Is Offered To U2

At Mass this weekend, all three readings have a common theme: repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

An interesting perspective on this theme was offered a few years ago by Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2. He was interviewed by a secular writer, who mocked religious faith. Bono, who is a Christian, didn’t get angry or defensive. Instead he began to explain the Good News. “It’s a mind-blowing concept,” he said, “that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.”

When asked to explain that statement, Bono said, “At the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you….And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that…. Love interrupts the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of [sinful] stuff.”

“I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge,” Bono continued. “It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross.”

Even more interesting was the interviewer’s reaction. “The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world,” he marveled. “I wish I could believe in that….That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view.”

God’s grace is so wonderful that it is indeed close to lunacy. Except it is true.

The interviewer had never even heard of the concept of grace, or the basic Gospel message of the forgiveness of sin through the death and Resurrection of Jesus. The idea that we can freely be forgiven, no matter how terrible our sins, seems to be lunacy when people first hear about it. It doesn’t fit in with our ingrained belief about karmic justice: if you do the crime you gotta do the time, what goes around comes around, and payback is a…well, you get the idea.

For many people who have never heard the Gospel message, the answer to the problem of karmic justice oftentimes simply is to deny that sin is real. This is why our secularized culture is so messed up these days. On second thought, there is one thing that is considered sinful in our relativistic modern culture: declaring that sin is real. The only thing that is absolutely wrong is to say certain things are absolutely wrong. The only thing that is not allowed is to say certain behaviors are not allowed.

Denying that sin exists may sidestep the problem of karmic justice, and it may give people some peace and comfort temporarily, but the plain reality for those willing to open their eyes and look around is that sin is all too real.

Although the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23), the solution to the problem is not to pretend that sin doesn’t exist, the solution is found at the foot of the Cross. The solution, as Bono mentioned, is Grace. God’s love interrupts the consequences of our actions.

It’s undeniable: we all screw up big time and we deserve to pay the penalty for our selfish and hurtful behavior. But God loves us too much to see us lost for all eternity. He paid the price Himself for our wickedness. If, as the readings this week explain, we repent of our sins and turn to the Lord in sincere faith, He will forgive us. He will shower us with His Grace. And that is Good News for me, and for U2.