Thursday, May 28, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Thursday afternoon

I am grateful for two things: that my eye doctor’s office is only a mile from my house, and that when I drove home from his office just now it was very overcast outside. You see, the goop he put in my eyes made my pupils dilate to the size of Oreo cookies. If the sun was shining brightly, even sunglasses wouldn’t have helped. I’m also grateful we live in a time and place where doctors are so knowledgeable about the workings of the amazing eye. While looking at some of the posters in his office, which showed the incredible complexity of vision, I thought to myself, “I can’t imagine how an eye doctor could possibly be an atheist.” I mean, the illustrations on those posters just screamed out: design, planning, function, intelligence, Creator. I am grateful to God for the gift of sight.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Who’s That Old Guy?

Recently I was on a business trip in Canada, the highlight of which was a day-long seminar about the exciting features of a brand new piece of commercial air conditioning equipment. (OK, you’re right, I need to brush up on the definition of various words, such as “highlight” and “exciting.” Either that, or I need to get out more often.)

During the seminar, I looked around the room and noticed that every one of the other 25 people in attendance was younger than me. A couple of guys might have just turned 50, I estimated, a far cry from my age 58. The rest were in their 30s and 40s. I suddenly felt very old. I don’t remember being in a business situation where I was definitely the oldest person in the room. Some of the people at the seminar were born in the 1980s, for goodness sake! Shoot, by the mid-1980s I was already at my fourth job since getting out of college. I finally settled into the HVAC industry about the same time some of the attendees were in nursery school. I applied that old expression to myself and thought: “I’ve forgotten more about this business than some of these guys have ever learned — and that’s just since breakfast!”

As I sat there, not paying attention (some things never change, regardless of age), I started to calculate in my head how much money I ought to set aside each year in order to be able to retire comfortably at age 65. Unfortunately, putting 100-percent of my current income into a pension plan might cause problems with the monthly budget.

Suddenly, the guy doing the presentation said, “And what do you think, Bill?” I looked up and saw that he was staring at me. He repeated, “What do you think?” I muttered to myself, “I think I need a nap,” and then I took a deep breath and said out loud, “Well, it’s an interesting feature, no doubt. But it’s actually very similar to what Trane and Carrier offered three decades ago. I do like, however, that you’ve given it a much smaller footprint.” (“Footprint” is a sure-fire impressive buzzword in my world.)

Other guys in the room smiled at me. Their smiles meant either, “Hey, the gray-haired dude has lots of experience,” or, “Hey, the gray-haired dude is older than dirt.”

The next day, when I drove through U.S. Customs on my way home, the agent looked at my passport and said, “Wow, this is an old photo!” I smiled and said, “Yeah, I used to have brown hair.” What I really wanted to say was, “My hair may be gray, but at least I have some, you bald-headed stooge!” But I refrained, mostly because he had a gun on his hip.

When I got home and told my wife about my geezer episodes, she laughed and said, “That explains your two favorite places.” Totally confused, I said, “Huh?”

She said, “When you’re not at work, where do you spend a lot of time?” Still confused, I replied, “I dunno. The bathroom? The couch?”

She said, “No, at church.” Then she continued, “And where is our new favorite vacation spot?”

This one I knew. “Florida.” Then it hit me. “Right! When I’m at church or in Florida, I’m NEVER the oldest person!” Being age 58 in church is in the middle of the pack. And being age 58 in Florida is like, heck, it’s like being a high school kid.

Now all I need to do is convince the manufacturer to schedule the next seminar either in church or Florida. I’ll give him a call right now. No, first I need a nap.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Trinity Sunday and the Great Commission

This weekend, we celebrate Trinity Sunday, a feast that honors the all-important Christian doctrine, which no one quite comprehends, the Holy Trinity.

At best, all we can do to grasp Trinitarian doctrine is to use imperfect analogies. As long as we’re on this side of eternity—in our fallen, time-constrained, 3-dimensional natural world—I suspect we’ll never be able to fully understand the Trinity. For now we have to take it as an article of faith, a profound divine mystery, that it is true. I also suspect once we get on the other side of eternity, once we get to Heaven and break free of the constraints of time and space, we’ll slap our celestial foreheads and exclaim, “Oh, now I get it! That wasn’t so complicated after all.”

In this week’s gospel reading, the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gives his followers what is known as The Great Commission. This passage is chosen for this week because it contains the most clear Trinitarian statement in all of Scripture. Jesus says, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Although it is difficult to comprehend the concept of the Holy Trinity, it is not difficult to comprehend what Jesus is telling us to do in this Great Commission. He wants us to make the whole world His followers. (Ooh, how politically incorrect is that?! Especially nowadays in our relativistic, perpetually offended culture?)

Also, in this week’s gospel reading, Jesus explains how we can fulfill the Great Commission and bring the whole world into a proper relationship with God. He says, “I am with you always.”

We can’t do it through our own power. We’re too weak. We can only fulfill our commission if we use Jesus’ supernatural power working through us.

Now, at this point, some people are probably saying, “Yeah, we already tried that Great Commission thing. It was called The Inquisition, and burnings at the stake, and bloody warfare, etc.”

Good point. Throughout history some have tried to convert the world to Christianity with swords and guns and terror and death. And this is exactly what relativistic secularists fear when they hear Christians say, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

But conversion to Christ occurs through the heart and free will. It is not accomplished by force; it is accomplished by love. That’s why it is so important that Jesus is with us always. Only when Jesus is with us can we possibly muster enough love to attract the world to the truth of the Gospel. Only when we “love our neighbors as ourselves,” and “lay down our lives for a friend,” and “pray for our enemies” can we show the world that Jesus is the only path to Heaven.

Just as no one can quite comprehend the Holy Trinity, no one can quite comprehend how the world will be converted by love rather than force. But the power of God, the love of Christ, and the truth of the Holy Spirit are greater than anything we can imagine. I suspect once we get on the other side of eternity, once we get to Heaven and see that love and peace truly conquer hatred and violence, we’ll slap our celestial foreheads and exclaim, “Oh, now I get it! That wasn’t so complicated after all.”

Monday, May 25, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Monday morning

I am grateful to all the men and women who paid the ultimate price while defending our nation. It is so sad that sinful mankind repeatedly resorts to war in an attempt to solve political disagreements. That’s our pitiful lot, living here in this fallen world. But at various times over the years, when our country needed to be defended, a select few stepped forward and put their lives on the line. Let us pray that our merciful God will bless and comfort their eternal souls. And let us pray for those who are in harm’s way today. On this Memorial Day, let us never forget that freedom isn’t free. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Saturday morning

I am grateful that I am not forced to make my living by playing the game of golf. If that were the case, my family and I would’ve starved to death a long time ago. Don’t get me wrong, I love the game of golf. I’m one of the few people I know who thinks watching golf on TV is really exciting. And I truly wish I could play the game with a modicum of competence—you know, maybe shoot in the low 90s once in a while. Nothing spectacular. But the fact is, I am so awful at the game of golf, it borders on the comical.

I played in an industry outing yesterday, and I don’t think there was a single time that I hit the ball solidly and straight. Oh, I hit a few solidly…right into the woods. And I hit a few straight…but only 50 yards (with a 3 Wood!!!).

I know I’m getting old, and it’s been many decades since I played football and baseball in college, but I’ve never been a total spaz when it comes to hand-eye-coordination activities—except when I put a golf club in my hands. Then it suddenly turns into an episode of the Three Stooges.

Well, we did have a lot of fun yesterday. And I made it thru 18 holes without losing ALL of the dozen balls I brought. So that’s a moral victory. I’m sure glad my paycheck doesn’t depend on how solidly and straight I can hit a golf ball.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, May 22, 2015

As mentioned last week, LeMoyne College, a Jesuit school in upstate New York, invited Cardinal Timothy Dolan to be the Commencement speaker. A group of outraged students started a petition, demanding that the school disinvite the Cardinal because he is “homophobic.” In other words, he holds the Catholic view (and, up until a few years ago, the worldwide historic view) that marriage is between one man and one woman.

However, at the same graduation ceremony, LeMoyne College also bestowed an honorary degree on Lois Whitman, a “human rights activist” who serves on the board of directors of the Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization that zealously promotes abortion and contraception. In addition, Whitman is on the board of directors of Physicians for Human Rights, a group with a nice sounding name that also zealously promotes abortion.

The Catholic students at the Catholic college, who protested the Catholic Cardinal for holding Catholic views, did not say a peep about the abortion-loving Ms. Whitman.

Wait. What?! What in God’s name is it about Jesuit schools these days? They are some of the most looney, loopy, leftist, un-Catholic institutions you can find. The Jesuits were formed by St. Ignatius Loyola centuries ago to protect the Church from Protestants. But now, who will protect the Church from Jesuits?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Connecticut Yankee in King Jesus' Court -- part 1


Jerry Francis gazed at the stars, twinkling brightly against the pitch black sky. How pretty, he thought. Then his attention shifted as he realized thorns were poking him in the back. A moment later his thoughts changed once again, and Jerry now wondered why he was lying in a briar patch staring at the sky, why his mind seemed to be operating in slow motion, and what in the world was that odd hissing sound?
Lifting his head slowly, Jerry looked toward the curious noise. He saw the silhouette of a car about 20 feet away, with the driver’s door flung open. Steam spewed from the spot where the crumpled front end pressed against a large maple tree. Fragments of information began to drift into Jerry’s foggy brain: he had been watching a baseball game on TV at his friend Vinny’s house. He never called home to tell his wife Brenda where he was. It was after midnight when he finally left. He was driving fast along the deserted state highway and rehearsing out loud what he hoped would be a believable excuse. And that’s all he could remember.
Jerry raised his hand and gently touched the lump on the top of his forehead. No wonder everything’s foggy, he thought. The next thought to pop into his mind was, I’ve got to get back to the road and flag down another car. He lurched into the sitting position and immediately saw more stars as the blood drained from his head. “Oh no,” he mumbled, “Don’t faint now…” But it was too late. The last sensation he felt before losing consciousness was the tingle of thorns poking him again as he flopped onto his back.

*  *  *

Jerry felt the bright sunshine before he actually saw it. As he emerged from his long and deep slumber, the warmth of the sun baked against his face. A few moments later, as his eyes started flickering behind closed lids, he saw vivid red colors. When he opened his eyelids ever-so-slightly, blinding white light streamed in, causing Jerry to cup his hand over his face. As he lay there, trying desperately to remember exactly where he was and exactly how he had gotten there, another curious sound filled his ears: the growing crescendo of a large group of people shouting, which reminded him of the crowd at Yankee Stadium when the bases were loaded and the cleanup hitter was striding toward the plate.
As Jerry wondered why a crowd of people would be gathered along a rural state highway in the suburbs of New Haven, a clear voice pierced the air from no more than a few feet away. “Jeremiah! Jeremiah!” the voice said. Then Jerry felt a hand grab his shoulder. “Jeremiah! Why are you sleeping?! Come on, get up. He’s almost here!”
With help from the mysterious hand, Jerry slowly sat up and carefully peeked through the fingers still covering his face. He saw the blurry form of a man kneeling beside him.
“Are you…are you the ambulance driver?” Jerry asked slowly.
“Were you drinking wine all night?” came the terse reply. As Jerry thought to himself, No, I only had a few beers at Vinny’s, the voice continued, “It’s me, Benjamin, and the man I told you about last night, Jesus of Nazareth, is here! He’s entering into Jerusalem! Can’t you hear the crowds?!”
Jerry eyes were finally adjusting to the bright sunshine, and he took a long look around at his surroundings. What he saw almost caused the blood to drain from his head again.
Yes, there was a crowd of people there, hundreds of folks lining each side of the road. But Jerry no longer wondered why a crowd was gathered on a rural state highway—despite their curious clothing—because he was too busy wondering why the road was no longer paved and how all the maple and pine trees had turned into palm trees.
The man called Benjamin helped Jerry to his feet. As he stood, Jerry looked down and noticed he was wearing a long tan robe and had sandals on his feet. “What the— Where’re my jeans? My Nikes?” he said. Jerry paused and looked at the excited crowd waving palm branches. “Toto,” he whispered to himself, “We’re not in Connecticut anymore.”
“Oh, here he comes!” Benjamin yelled.
The shouting grew louder and some people stepped forward and spread palm branches and articles of clothing in the center of the dusty road. A small procession came into view. Above the roar, Jerry heard people, including Benjamin, proclaim in unison, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
The procession came near Jerry’s spot along the road. Not exactly the Rose Bowl parade, he thought. About ten bearded men were in the lead, holding palm branches and waving to the crowd. Next was the obvious center of attention, a man riding sidesaddle on a donkey. Another eight or ten men brought up the rear, with some women and children following in their wake, and that was the entire show.
When the donkey was directly in front of Jerry, the rider looked straight at him and smiled. A cold chill ran down Jerry’s spine as the man’s gentle gaze seemed to penetrate his soul. “Whoa, wait a minute,” he said, as the last bit of fogginess vanished from his brain. “This looks just like…” his voice trailed off as he tried to recall the details of his childhood Catechism classes. “But, but it can’t be,” he said. “That was 2,000 years ago.”
For a moment, Jerry wished he had accompanied his wife and kids to church once in a while. But then he quickly remembered why he never went to church: he simply didn’t believe any of it. “Oh, I’m sure there was a guy named Jesus,” he would tell Brenda whenever she brought up the subject, “but all that stuff about miracles is a bunch of fairy tales.”
“Isn’t he wonderful?!” Benjamin shouted, interrupting Jerry’s thoughts. “Jesus will be the new king of Israel! He’s going to lead us in a violent revolt against the Romans, just like I told you last night!”
“What do you mean, ‘last night’?” Jerry asked. “Last night I was watching a Yankees game on Vinny’s big-screen TV.”
“Last night you were with me,” Benjamin replied, “at the secret meeting of the Zealots. You pledged your life to help us overthrow the Romans.” As Benjamin spoke, he carefully opened the front of his cloak and revealed two sharp daggers hanging from his belt. “And here’s the weapon I promised to give you.”
Benjamin carefully passed one of the 12-inch blades to Jerry, who held it by the handle between thumb and forefinger as if it were a dead mouse. “Ohh-kaaay,” Jerry said slowly. “Someday you’ll have to fill me in on the details of what I did last night.”
“Hide it in your cloak,” Benjamin ordered urgently. “You know we’re not allowed to have weapons. We’ll be arrested if they catch us!”
Jerry nervously fumbled with the dagger and concealed it in his robes, relieved that no blood was drawn in the process.
“Now, come on,” Benjamin said. “Let’s follow Jesus and meet up with our brother revolutionaries. Maybe the battle against the Romans will begin today!”
“Wait a minute, Benny,” Jerry stammered as he grabbed Benjamin’s arm, “I, uh, I’m not sure exactly what’s going on here, but I think I have an idea who this Jesus is, and you gotta trust me, it’s not gonna happen that way.”
“What do you mean?” Benjamin asked.
“I, I don’t think Jesus is going to lead an army and drive out the Romans,” Jerry replied. “At least—if I understand what Sister Mary Margaret taught me twenty-five years ago—not in this world. In fact, Benny, by Friday this whole crowd is going to demand that Jesus be put to death!”
“You were drinking all night!” Benjamin laughed. “How are you going to kill Romans with your head filled with wine?”

Jerry couldn’t think of an answer—he couldn’t even comprehend the question—but the idea of a stiff drink sounded pretty good. Benjamin put his arm around Jerry’s shoulders and the two men began walking up the dusty road toward the center of Jerusalem. As they walked, Jerry shook his head in amazement. “Man,” he said softly, “Brenda is never gonna believe this excuse.”