Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Visit to Keurig Kulture Kamp

As I write this, it is 2 a.m. I am in cell number 2433 in Keurig Kulture Kamp number 7, which I believe is located somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tomorrow will be my 30th and final day here: Judgment Day. I either will be released and returned home to resume my life — now properly educated — or I will, at least if the rumors are correct, become part of a massive compost heap that is used to power this facility. The guards remind us of this possibility when they sing, “If you don’t SEE the light / You will BE the light.”

It all began 29 days ago. I had just brewed a second cup of coffee with my new Keurig machine. I snapped the plastic lid onto my travel mug and headed off to work. As I walked out the side door toward my car in the driveway, I noticed a black van idling in the street, blocking the end of my driveway. Suddenly two burly men dressed all in black leaped from the bushes and seized me. They had ski masks covering their faces and sub-machine guns slung over their shoulders. I was so surprised I did not struggle, except when my coffee mug fell to the ground, spilling all my coffee. That got me upset. Do you know how much those K-cups cost?

A third man, dressed similarly, stepped forward and snapped a sack over my head. Then the three of them hustled me down the driveway and pushed my into the side door of the van, which squealed away even before the door was completely shut.

When I demanded to know what was going on, they told me I was being taken to a Keurig Kulture Kamp. That brightened my mood (the sub-machine guns notwithstanding) because ever since I had purchased my new Keurig coffee machine I had embraced the convenience of coffee on demand. I hadn’t realized there was an entire culture built around these fancy coffee makers, but I looked forward to joining in. Also, after spilling my mug, they owed me a fresh cup.

Well, I could not have been more wrong. The only culture relating to Keurig at the camp was the idea that Keurig machines are the worst things ever: evil devices that surely will destroy the earth’s entire ecosystem. During our daily indoctrination, er, I mean, educational sessions, we were given the grim statistics about Keurig machines: all the wasteful plastic and foil and packaging. We were told that if each of the 9.8 billion non-recyclable K-cups used in 2014 were placed side by side, they would circle the earth 12 times. To reinforce the classroom lessons, we ended each day by sticking our thumb in a Keurig machine where the K-cup normally goes, and then a guard would slam the lever down. I must say, my desire to brew coffee in a Keurig machine has been noticeably reduced, while my desire to suck my thumb has been noticeably increased.

We were blessed last week to be visited by Professor Al Gore himself. The all-knowing Goracle flew in on his private jet, and then lectured us for almost 15 minutes about the importance of having a small carbon footprint. He then flew to Switzerland to have dinner with a friend.

I am scribbling this letter to my wife just in case I am not allowed to leave here tomorrow. If I do come home tomorrow, honey, please hide the Keurig machine in the closet, at least until the black van drives away. But if I don’t come home, feel free to brew a K-cup and drink a coffee toast to me.

Monday, April 27, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Monday morning

I am grateful that I have a job to go to. Yes, it’s Monday morning (Ugh!); and yes, the commuter traffic was especially awful on Interstate-84 today (Grrr!); and yes, the minute I walked thru the office door there was a major issue that required me to drop everything and go into crisis management mode (Owww!). Despite all that, I can’t imagine how bad it would feel to be unemployed. I know a lot of people have been searching for work for a long time now, and I really pray for these folks. So I’m not going to complain. I’m going to be thankful for my job – even the Monday mornings, the bumper-to-bumper traffic, and the office disasters which seem to occur on a daily basis.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

‘How Come You Catholics Try To Earn Your Way Into Heaven?’

How come you Catholics try to earn your way into Heaven? Didn’t you ever read the Bible? Salvation is by FAITH ALONE. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. You Catholics insult Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross by trying to earn your way into Heaven. That’s why you’re not real Christians!”

* * *

Wow, have you ever been confronted with these questions by a friend or co-worker or, most zealous of all, a family member who USED to be Catholic? How do you respond? Is it really true that we Catholics believe we must earn our way into Heaven?

Well, the first problem is that the issue is often framed with “either-or” language: we are saved either by faith or by works. However, it’s really more of a “both-and” situation: we are saved by both faith and works.

Let’s look at the above biblical quotation from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Yes, he definitely wrote that we are not saved by works, so no one may boast. This comes from chapter 2, verses 8 and 9. But do you think when Paul wrote that sentence, he also expected people to continue reading? The very next sentence, verse 10, says, “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”

Wait. What? Did Paul just say “good works”? I thought this was the “faith alone and NOT good works” biblical reference? It sure sounds like Paul wants us to make good works a key part of our lives.

This argument pretty much dissolves when we realize one very important fact: faith is a verb. Faith is not a noun, a thing that we acquired because we once recited a sincere 30-second prayer while watching Billy Graham on TV. Faith is much more than simply acknowledging that certain claims about Jesus are true. Faith is putting that belief into action. St. Paul summarizes it beautifully in his letter to the Galatians: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” That sure sound like a verb to me.

True saving faith and good works are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other.
By the way, there is a “faith alone” reference in the Bible. It’s in the epistle of St. James, who writes, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone….faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:24,26). In the only place in the entire Scriptures where we find the phrase “faith alone, the message is the exact opposite of what our zealous friends, co-workers, and family members are proclaiming.
And if you’re not a big fan of St. James, how about Jesus Himself: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father” (Matthew 7:21).

So, does this mean that we Catholics try to earn our way into Heaven? No, not at all. Our zealous friends are correct: no one can work his way into Heaven. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that salvation “comes from the grace of God.the free and undeserved help that God gives us” (1996). But the Catechism also says, “God’s free initiative demands man’s free response” (2002). We have to put our faith into action to receive God’s saving grace.

So it’s not that complicated. We are saved by faith expressing itself through love, which often takes the form of good works. But in the end, it’s all grace. No one can earn his way into Heaven.
Oh, and one last thing, in case you’re not sure: Catholics definitely ARE real Christians.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Saturday evening

I am grateful that I live in the particular time and place that I do. When my furnace stopped working overnight, I made a phone call in the morning, and 30 minutes later a service tech was pulling into my driveway. He quickly replaced a part on the burner, and bingo, we had heat again! If I lived in, say, the 19th century, and had to provide my own food and shelter and heat, I probably would’ve survived for about three days.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, April 24, 2015

In recent years Hillary Clinton has given countless speeches across the country, and each time has been paid $300,000 to offer her one-hour presentation. Wow, good work if you can get it. (And her husband Bill often gets $500,000 per speech!). On an hourly basis, Hillary’s fee is 30,000 times more money than a person who makes $10 per hour. Even if you figure that each speech by Mrs. Clinton is a full day of work—after all, she has to fly in on a private jet and spend the night in a five-star hotel—her compensation is still 3750 times more than the 10-bucks-an-hour average Joe makes in a day. When Hillary visited Iowa last week to kick off her presidential campaign, she said this: “I think it's fair to say that if you look across the country, the deck is stacked in favor of those already at the top. There’s something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the American worker.”

Wait. What?! A person who makes over 30,000 times more than a minimum wage worker is complaining about CEOs who make 300 times more? Hmm, what’s wrong with this picture? Is Hillary and her team of advisers even remotely aware of the concept of irony? How about hypocrisy? And we have to be subjected to this for the next 18 months? Oy, I feel sick.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Thursday afternoon

I am grateful that my wife and kids and I are in good health. That’s something which is easy to take for granted, as all the other issues of life swirl about during the day. But we watched an interesting movie the other night, “The Theory of Everything,” about the life of super-smart guy Dr. Stephen Hawkings. It was very moving to see how the terrible disease ALS first took away his ability to walk, then his ability to talk. So I’ll try to whine less often when, for example, my middle-aged back is achy or my gimpy knee is sore. It could be a whole lot worse. Thank you, O Lord, for the gift of health.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Smart Phones Cause ‘Telepressure’

A recent study coined a new term: “telepressure.” This is the stress caused by a need to check and respond to work emails while at home. It can begin the moment a person wakes up, and can continue until well past midnight, as one final email reply is sent out on a smart phone while lying in bed. And take my word for it, being exhausted but unable to fall asleep while visions of quarterly sales reports dance in your head is a delightful feeling, especially when the alarm clock is set to go off in five hours so the cycle can begin all over again.

Researchers have discovered that people who feel obligated to respond to work emails at all hours of the day have difficulty sleeping, have higher levels of stress and burnout, and have more health-related absences from work. Although since it’s possible to reply to emails on a phone even when in a hospital bed, should we really call these episodes “absences from work”? I know some people who in all seriousness would call these episodes “goldbricking,” “a sign of weakness,” and “reason to question your loyalty to the firm.”

The study did not mention another symptom of doing work emails at home: people don’t have bags under their eyes, they have carry-on luggage.

The research found that 52-percent of Americans check their email before and after regular work hours, and this includes Sundays, sick days, and vacation days. I suspect the percentage is even higher, as some people were unable to respond to the survey because at that moment they were too busy typing out a frantic work email.

There is one very clear conclusion we can draw from this research: Steve Jobs was an agent of Satan. OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh. The late, great inventor of the iPhone most likely did not have a secret master plan to make everyone unhappy and unhealthy. Smart phones are indeed remarkable devices. (I suppose you could say the same thing about hydrogen bombs.)

But as is the case with many good things (to clarify, I’m not including hydrogen bombs here), human beings have a tendency to go overboard. I’m thinking at the moment of two items: bacon-flavored chocolate, which I recently received as a birthday present (and if I’m soon in need bacon-flavored methadone, you’ll know why), and the proliferation of fluorescent colored running shoes. Really, Nike? You really think those glow-in-the-dark sneakers look GOOD? We all know your shoes are infinitely more comfortable than the old Converse All Stars of a generation ago. But when people want comfortable footwear, do they really need to look like Ringling Brothers employees?

An interesting aspect about the email research is that people who are on vacation and purposely force themselves NOT to check work emails are more stressed-out than if they spent time replying to emails. This is because they fear they are missing something important, and worry that a client or their boss or Steve Jobs will be displeased with them.

The only solution to telepressure is to force yourself to turn off the smart phone at 5 p.m., and don’t turn it back on until 8 a.m. the next morning. I’ll bet in many cases this won’t even be a problem. No clients or bosses or agents of Satan will be displeased. But if this does become a problem, look on the bright side. If you lose your job and the bank forecloses on your house and your spouse and children leave you, at least while huddled inside a cardboard box in an alley, you will get the best night’s sleep you’ve had in years.