Friday, March 24, 2017

D.M.V. Nightmare Turns to Dream

Boy, talk about frustration. I was all set to write a column about the maddening process of trying to get a problem resolved at that bastion of indifference and ineptitude: the Department of Motor Vehicles.

It all started recently when I had my driver’s license renewed. Something must have malfunctioned with the DMV’s laminating machine, because within a few weeks, the writing and the photo on my license began to fade. I considered this a good thing, since the more it faded, the less my mug shot looked like a crime scene photo of a dead guy.

You have to admit it, there’s something quite remarkable about those DMV digital cameras. They can make Brad Pitt look like Boris Karloff.

But then a couple weeks later I went to the drive-up teller window of my bank to cash a check. The teller asked to see my driver’s license to verify my identification. As soon as she looked at it, she got that “Uh oh, we’ve got a problem here” look on her face.

Through the big pane of glass, I could see the teller show my license to three other bank employees, each of whom also got that “Uh oh, we’ve got a problem here” look on their faces. Finally, after almost ten minutes the teller came back to the window and said, “I’m sorry, we can’t accept this license. It looks fake. You should go back to the Motor Vehicle office and get a new one.”

As I angrily drove away, I could already envision the nightmare at the DMV office. I’d go there and show them my screwed-up license and they’d say, “Well, you can fill out the Lost License Form and we’ll make you a new one — for a fee.” Or they’d say, “Well, you can fill out the Destroyed License Form and we’ll make you a new one — for a fee.” Or they’d say, “Well, you can fill out the I Admit I Tried To Cash A Check With A Fake I.D. Form and we’ll call the State Police and have you arrested — for a fee.”

I already started outlining in my mind the scathing column I planned to write about the ordeal I was sure to face. The main theme would be: “Imagine! Having to pay extra to correct their blunder! Harrumph!” It would be the most sarcastic and indignant thing I ever wrote. (Which, as many of you know, is saying a lot.) I even thought about buying a mini camera to secretly videotape the whole ordeal.

But my plans of journalistic retribution were completely dashed. I strode into the DMV office fully prepared — in violation of everything my parents taught me when I was young — to MAKE A SCENE. To my complete surprise, the DMV employee could not have been nicer or more helpful.

I held out my faded license, and before I could even say a word, the woman behind the counter said, “Oh dear, the lamination must have fallen off.” She immediately grabbed a small form, wrote “defective” on it, and said, “Just take a seat, Mr. Dunn. We’ll have a new license for you in a couple minutes.”

And true to her word, two minutes later she called my name and handed me a brand new, shiny license — no charge.

I was devastated. My “DMV Nightmare” column was already three-quarters written. Now I’d have to start from scratch to write a column. 

When I got to my car I took a closer look at the new license. “Ah ha!” I exclaimed. I had a valid complaint after all. On the left-hand side of the license was a bright and colorful crime scene photograph of Boris Karloff.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Jesus Is Intolerant, and That’s Good

Imagine this scenario: It’s the middle of the night. You’re sound asleep. Suddenly, the smoke alarm starts beeping loudly. You stumble out of bed and you can smell smoke. So, you wake up your family and race down the stairs to the first floor to get out of the house.

You see that the front door is blocked by flames. You look around and see the back door is blocked by flames, too. Then you look toward the kitchen and see that the side door is clear. A way out!

Now, at that moment, what do you do? Do you grab your family and race out the side door to safety? Or do you stand there indignantly, and say, “This is unacceptable. This is way too narrow. There is only one path to safety. That’s intolerant. I want many paths. I want to go out whichever exit I feel like going out. And I’m not going to move from this spot until I get my way. Harrumph!”

To paraphrase one of my favorite Old Testament prophets, Mick Jagger, sometimes we don’t get what we want, but we do get what we need.

The Bible is very clear: Mankind is sinful, and we are separated from God. The Bible also is very clear: nothing sinful, nothing unclean, will ever enter into Heaven. If we really got what we deserved, we’d be in big trouble.

But Jesus came to fix that. He came to provide a path to Heaven—Himself. He clearly declared in John’s gospel: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

According to Jesus, there is only one path to Heaven: through Him. Jesus’ statement strikes some people as narrow and intolerant. But this situation should not cause people to be frustrated and lash out with accusations of intolerance. This situation should cause people to be joyful. We should exclaim, “Yes! There is a way to Heaven. Thank God!” Just as only one door is needed to escape from the burning house, only one path is needed to escape Hell. And that path is Jesus.

To be perfectly frank, when Jesus made that declaration, He WAS being intolerant. And, of course, in today’s modern culture, just about the worst thing someone can be is intolerant. But is being intolerant really that awful? Do we tolerate a pharmacist who puts the wrong pills in the little bottles? Do we tolerate motorists who drive through red lights? Do we tolerate a GPS device that always directs us to the wrong address?

It doesn’t make sense to tolerate something that is wrong. Jesus’ statement in the Bible is like a GPS, it gives us the one correct route to our destination. Should we pout and whine because we demand additional correct routes? The truth is, if God were very righteous but not very loving, we would get what we deserve, zero paths to Heaven.

We may not like that there is only one path to Heaven. We may wish there were many different ways to experience joy and peace for all eternity. (Ever hear the popular saying, “All roads lead to the top of the mountain. All sincere paths lead to God”? Oh really? Where does it say that in Scripture?)

Ultimately, who has the authority to make the rules here? Is it us, the created beings? Or is it God, the Creator? It’s His universe. He has the right to make the ground rules. And the ground rules are clear: there is only one way to Heaven, and that is through Jesus. Don’t stand in a burning house and complain that it’s not fair. Race through the open path, embrace Jesus, and rejoice that there is a way to experience eternal joy.

Friday, March 17, 2017

60 Is the New 50, Or Something

The other day a friend said to me, “Bill, don’t worry about your birthday, because 60 is the new 50.”

I also heard recently that 50 is the new 40. And someone told me 40 is the new 30. Well, if we keep playing this game, I can make the case that I’m really only 10 years old, and I qualify to be the 5th grader who claps the erasers after class. By the way, you need to be in my age range to have any idea what clapping erasers after class even means. It’s been decades since schools changed from blackboards and chalk, to either white boards with marking pens or video screens. In the good ol’ days it was a special privilege to be selected to take the erasers outside and clap them together until you were engulfed in a cloud of chalk dust. I’m sure that was great for the lungs, too. With all the chalk particles I inhaled back then, I’m surprised I even made it to 60.

Anyway, if 60 is the new 50 or 30 or fetus or whatever folks are claiming these days, that’s great; I’m immature enough to feel quite comfortable identifying as a young person. However, someone should explain this to my aching back, my right knee, and my swollen prostate. Those various body parts somehow didn’t get the memo. I’m pretty sure a young person doesn’t have to get up at 2 a.m. every night to use the bathroom (thanks, prostate!), and in the process limp down the hall (thanks, knee!) while reaching around and rubbing the shooting pain just above the left hip (thanks, back!).  Also, if I pretend in my mind that I’m just a young pup, it won’t do any good if a different part of my mind can’t remember why I got up off the couch and walked into the kitchen — something that’s been happening far too frequently of late. 

To be honest, whining about the aging process is getting a little tedious. People younger than me are thinking, “Oh shut up, Grandpa.” And people older than me are thinking, “Why did I come out here into the kitchen? No wait, now I remember: you ain’t seen nothing yet, punk. You think you have aches and pains now? Wait till you’re my age!”

Yeah, whining about getting old is a waste of time, not to mention boring. I mean, can you imagine how boring it would be if someone wrote about turning 60 in two consecutive newspaper columns? Sheesh. That’s pathetic. You’ll never catch me doing that. Hey, why did I sit down at this computer keyboard? Hmm, I can’t remember. Maybe I wanted to write something about St. Patrick’s Day, when we honor the patron saint of Ireland by chugging horrible green beer and throwing up in the bushes.

St. Patrick’s Day certainly is a fun holiday, but there’s another special day in mid-March. It might be someone’s birthday, but I’m drawing a blank right now. Oh well, if I think of it, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, did you hear that 60 is the new 50? Or maybe 70 is the new 20? I can’t quite remember how it goes, and I can’t remember who told me, or why, but I guess it’s important.

Anyway, I’ve got to get up and go into the kitchen now. Ouch, the ol’ knee and back don’t like it when I stand up too fast. Um, why did I come out here, anyway? I either need to get a snack or to clap some erasers. But I’d better go to the bathroom first. Now where is that room located again?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Eucharist Is a Face-to-Face Meeting

Do you have any loved ones who are far from home? Quite often we are separated from the people we love because of jobs or school or military service. When people are separated, they can share their thoughts via letters and email, and they can make phone calls and speak to one another. This keeps the relationship alive and healthy, but the truth is, both parties in the relationship would prefer to be in each other’s presence, to see each other face-to-face.

With loved ones far from home, being in each other’s presence is the summit of joy. We’ve all seen those heart-warming photos and videos of servicemen returning home after many months or even years overseas. The hugs and kisses and tears of joy are profound. The personal relationship is overflowing with love at that moment.

With this in mind, here is an analogy regarding our faith life: it is crucially important to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; all great Christian teachers down thru the centuries have made this clear. In our relationship with Jesus, the Bible is similar to letters and email, as He tells us what is on His mind using His written word. And prayer is similar to phone calls. We speak to the Lord and then He speaks back to us, encouraging us, inspiring us, and guiding us. Both of these methods of communication are good and wonderful, and are very important. But to be honest, in order to make the personal relationship more complete, a face-to-face meeting is necessary.

With our relationship with Jesus, we do have the opportunity to meet Him face-to-face and experience profound joy and love: this opportunity is the Eucharist. Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, body and blood, soul and divinity. Sadly, far too many Catholics just go through the motions when they receive the Eucharist at Mass. They have lost sight of Who is really present.

Imagine if a soldier came home after being overseas for a year. His wife is picking him up at the airport. When he gets off the plane and walks through the doorway, seeing his wife face-to-face for the first time in 12 months, his heart is overflowing with love and joy. He desires to embrace her in a huge bear hug and let the tears of joy flow freely. But instead, imagine if she just walks up to him and says in an annoyed and hurried voice, “Hi. C’mon, let’s go, we have to beat the traffic.”

When Jesus becomes present in the Eucharist—body and blood, soul and divinity—by virtue of the Spirit of God working through the priest during the prayer of consecration, it is as if He is walking through a doorway after being away. His heart is overflowing with love and joy for each and every one of us. His desire is to hug us in a powerful embrace. He wants His soul to enter into us. He gives us Himself, using the consecrated bread and wine now made flesh and blood. His being becomes a part of our being. Two are made one. It is a co-union, a communion of two souls. It is the wonderful, blessed sacrament, by which the Lord God of the Universe keeps His promise to us: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). It is the pinnacle of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

When you receive Jesus in the Eucharist at Mass, please don’t say to Him: “Hi. C’mon, let’s go, we have to beat the traffic out of this church parking lot.” That would be such a missed opportunity.

Friday, March 10, 2017

I’m Linked-In to New Job Openings

As I mentioned previously, I quit Facebook a while ago. I guess I couldn’t handle all the excitement of discovering that a high school classmate, whom I haven’t seen in 40 years, had cream of mushroom soup for lunch — again! And with photos. Whoo, it was so breathtaking I needed a fainting couch.

But I haven’t quite cut myself off from all social media, as I still have an account with LinkedIn.

If you’re not sure what LinkedIn is, just think: Facebook for business. Instead of discovering what a long lost classmate ate for lunch, LinkedIn lets me know what some guy I met once at an industry seminar three years ago ate for lunch. It was tuna. And there were photos. And yeah, once again it was so breathtaking I needed a fainting couch.

Recently, LinkedIn informed me that there are over 14,000 job openings in the greater Hartford area. Now why would they bother telling me something like that? I’ve been told social media companies have a remarkable ability to glean personal information from users — to the point where privacy advocates are very worried.

If LinkedIn had accumulated any data about me, they’d know three things: First, I’m not even looking for a job. I enjoy what I’m doing for a living, and I don’t really care that there are over 14,000 job openings in central Connecticut.

Second, if LinkedIn knew anything about me, they’d know that the vast majority of those 14,000 positions are jobs I neither have interest in nor the ability to perform. The first job listed was “software development manager.” Um, sure. When it comes to software, I’m a whiz, as in: when my computer freezes up, I say, “I think I’ll go take a whiz, and hope when I return the computer has magically healed itself.”

When something really weird happens to my computer, such as a little window popping up that says, “You have 2 updates pending,” I immediately yell across the office to our resident tech guru, “Tom! What does this mean?!” So yeah, software development management and I go together like ice cream and sardines.

Another job opening was “radiology technician.” Well, I like to listen to the radio, and maybe that’s the main duty of this particular occupation, but I kind of doubt it. After scanning a few dozen more jobs, I didn’t see a single one that would be a good fit for me. At that point I stopped looking, because the only people with time to browse 14,000 job openings are those who currently do not have a job. Not wanting to lose mine, I closed out that window on my computer and resumed my important work duties by yelling, “Tom! What does this mean?!”

Finally, if LinkedIn knew anything about me, they would not waste time telling me about job openings, for the simple reason that I turn 60 next week. Everyone knows companies will not hire people who are age 60 or older. Oh sure, age discrimination is against the law. But that just means employers are careful not to blurt out something stupid like, “Whoa, you’re really OLD! We’re looking for someone who will still be working here 10 or 20 years from now — not to mention still alive.”

Employers violate no law if they instead tactfully say, “Thank you so much, Mr. Methuselah, for applying for this position. We have many other qualified candidates yet to interview, and we will be in touch soon.” Then after you leave, they run your application and résumé through the shredder and have a good laugh. 

So, I don’t know why LinkedIn sent me a message about job openings. All I can say is, “Tom! What does this mean?!”

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Transfiguration Makes Us Ask: Who Is Jesus?

This week’s gospel reading at Mass is the Transfiguration of Jesus. Matthew’s version of this spectacular event highlights the Transfiguration’s similarities with the Exodus account of God giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Both events occurred on a mountain; the face of God’s servant became radiant; a cloud represented God’s presence; and the divine voice spoke from the cloud.

At the Transfiguration, Jesus brought three of His disciples—Peter, James, and John—up on a high mountain. Jesus was transfigured before them, and as we read, “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” (Sounds like a possible marketing campaign: “Try new TRANSFIGURE laundry detergent, and get your clothes ‘white as light!’”)

Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus. Moses was the person to whom God had given his Law. In fact, the Law was often referred to as “the Law of Moses.” Elijah was the first great prophet in Israel. If you had to pick two concepts or two guys to summarize the entire Old Testament, it would be the Law and the Prophets—Moses and Elijah.

The reason Moses and Elijah appeared was to show that Jesus had not come to replace the Law and the Prophets; instead He came to fulfill them. Jesus’ coming and His teachings were not a brand new theology designed to replace Old Testament theology. If so, it would mean the Old Testament theology was mistaken.

Jesus’ coming and His teachings were the logical extension of the Old Testament teachings. His life and ministry were the culmination of all that had come before. God revealed Himself and laid out His guidelines for mankind in the Old Testament, and foretold that He would send a special anointed one to reconcile mankind back to Himself.

So, the main point is, Moses and Elijah did not appear with Jesus on the mountain so that Jesus could say, “You guys are outta here! Your teachings were all wrong. I’ve got the correct teaching now!”

They appeared more as teammates, passing the baton, so that Jesus could say, “Thanks guys. You did a great job setting the stage for me. Now it’s time to fulfill everything God’s been doing all these years.”

Although Jesus acknowledged that the Law and the Prophets were good and godly concepts, we must not make the mistake of equating Jesus with Moses or Elijah.

About a week before the Transfiguration, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of man is?”

They told him some of the various views: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. Then Jesus asked them point blank, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”

Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Within a few days, Jesus took Peter and the other two up the mountain to prove beyond a doubt that Peter’s answer was correct.

That’s the question facing us today. Who do we say that Jesus is? There’s a lot of different answers floating around these days: a good and wise teacher, a prophet, a holy man, the founder of one of many religions, a mythical figure from ancient folklore, etc.

But only one answer is correct—Peter’s answer. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And as Peter later taught about Jesus, as recorded in the book of Acts, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” 

That’s the whole point of the Transfiguration. It’s the whole point of the Old and New Testaments: to lead us to the correct answer to the most important question of all time: Who do you say that Jesus is?

Friday, March 3, 2017

I Know Nothing, Colonel Hogan

Usually, I consider myself to be a knowledgeable guy. I blurt out a fair number of correct answers while watching the TV show “Jeopardy,” especially if it’s a sports-related category. But since I never give the answer in question form, I’d end up with zero dollars if I actually appeared on the show. (Another contributing factor might be my “deer in the headlights” stage fright.)

However, recently it dawned on me that my kids have been right all along: I really don’t know anything. And I ran the numbers to prove it.

At work, I’ve been in my current position for over 15 years. During that time, I’ve learned a lot, and many people contact me on a daily basis seeking information. Even if I don’t know the answers, I know who to call to get the answers. I would estimate that I know about 20-percent of what there is to know about my company’s operations. That number is probably inflated, but let’s go with it for now.

Now, my company deals with a specialized part of a larger industry. And I estimate our little operation gets involved with about five-percent of that industry. But our industry probably accounts for, at most, one-percent of the overall economy.

Even giving me and my business the benefit of the doubt, knowing 20-percent of a business, which is five-percent of an industry, which is one-percent of the economy, means that at most I know one one-hundredth of one percent of what’s going on.

But that’s only talking about the business world. When you factor in all the other fields of human endeavor, in other words, all those varied Jeopardy categories — geography, medicine, art, movies, biology, literature, chemistry, architecture, software, geology, politics, law, world history, and of course, my worst category of all, state capitals — my information rate drops from one one-hundredth of one percent to less than one one-millionth of one percent.

If you know anything about statistics (I thought I knew a bit, but now I’m not sure), if you have one one-millionth of one percent of something (0.00000001), you effectively have nothing. I mean, if you had one one-millionth of one percent of arsenic in your drinking water, you wouldn’t even notice — probably. On the other hand, I don’t know anything about anything, so don’t listen to me, especially when it comes to poisoned water. I do Google searches all the time, and I thought I was learning things, but I guess not.

To give you an idea of what this means, one one-millionth of one percent of a million dollars is exactly one penny. So, if all the knowledge in the world equals a million dollars, I have just enough brain power to purchase an empty gum wrapper.

It looks a little better if you apply this statistic to insane numbers. If Washington sends me one one-millionth of one percent of the federal government’s $4 trillion annual budget, I receive $40,000. Not a bad payday. But on the other hand, if I’m liable for one one-millionth of one percent of the national debt, then I owe $200,000. Not so good.

Again, those are insane numbers, and I had to search all over the house to find a calculator that could even handle that many zeros. (Ooh, that sounds like either a good name for a rock band or a description of all the politicians in Washington: “That Many Zeros.”)

Anyway, when we get back to something more manageable than the U.S. national debt, such as all the knowledge in the world, I’m back to square one. It’s just like my kids have been saying for years: I know nothing. 

“I’ll take ‘Sergeant Schultz’ for 800, Alex.”