Sunday, May 31, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Sunday evening

I am grateful that I will be getting plenty of sleep this summer. You see, my favorite team, the Red Sox, are playing so horribly, I am not going to be tempted to stay up late to follow the games. So if it’s, say, a Wednesday night, and the game is close in the 7th inning, who cares? Good night, boys. I’ll be well-rested when I read the score in the morning—or maybe not. At this point, again, who cares?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Connecticut Yankee in King Jesus' Court -- part 2


A smile spread across Jerry Francis’ face as he slept. He was having a vivid dream. In the dream, Jerry and his family were laughing and playing in the backyard of their suburban Connecticut home. Jerry was pitching Wiffle balls to his son Michael, age seven, who took mighty swings with a yellow plastic bat. Jerry’s wife Brenda and their daughter Jennifer, age nine, retrieved the balls and offered encouragement and the occasional playful taunt whenever Michael swung and missed.
Then Jerry’s dream became murky. He seemed to hear low, rumbling sounds that enveloped the entire backyard. Then Brenda, Michael, and Jennifer began to fade from his sight. Jerry wanted to yell, “Wait, come back! Don’t go!” but he was immobile and unable to speak. His family completely disappeared from view. Now the low rumbling sounds became more distinct, and were transformed into actual words.
“Wake. Up. Jeremiah.”
Jerry grunted in confusion. “Wake up,” he heard more clearly now. The dream was over, and consciousness took control of his brain. Jerry opened his eyes and saw Benjamin towering above him.
“Wake up, Jeremiah,” Benjamin said again.
“I’m up, I’m up,” Jerry grunted, not really sure whether he was still dreaming or indeed awake. He propped himself up on an elbow and looked around. He saw Benjamin standing next to him, and there were two other men on the far side of the small room. The full effect of the dank and smelly air now hit Jerry’s nostrils. He winced. Then he looked down and realized he was lying on a pile of straw on top of the dirt floor. “What the—” he muttered. “This isn’t a dream, it’s a nightmare.”
Jerry sat up and yawned. He looked around the room again, now with more focused eyes. All the images of the previous day flooded back to him. Vinny’s house. Yankees game. Car accident. Dirt road. Palm trees. Benjamin. Daggers. Jerusalem. Jesus. Jesus? Did I really see Jesus yesterday? Jerry thought. What is going on here?! Suddenly he longed for his family. He closed his eyes tightly and tried to force his brain to return to the dream, to Brenda and Mikey and Jenny and the Wiffle ball and the backyard. Tears seeped between his eyelids and trickled down his cheeks.
“Jeremiah, I have great news!” Benjamin said loudly, startling Jerry into opening his eyes. “I just found out that Jesus is going to the Temple courtyards today. Come on, we must hurry.” He reached down and grabbed Jerry’s arm and helped him to his feet. “Maybe today will be the day we get to kill some Romans, eh?” Benjamin added in a cheery voice.
“Kill Romans? I don’t wanna kill Romans,” Jerry said softly. “I wanna hug Brenda. I wanna play Wiffle ball with my kids. I wanna go home.”
Just then a loud rapping sound came from the door. “He’s here!” Benjamin said excitedly.
One of the other men in the room went to the door and cautiously said, “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Simon,” came the reply. “Hurry, open up!” Upon hearing this, the man inside the room slid back the bolt and pulled the door open. A small, wiry man hurried through the doorway and shut the door tightly behind him.
The men in the room greeted the man with handshakes and hugs. Then the man noticed Jerry standing against the wall and said suspiciously, “Who’s he?”
Benjamin said, “His name is Jeremiah. Don’t worry, Simon, he’s one of us.” Then Benjamin grabbed Jerry’s arm and pulled him forward. “Simon,” he said, “I want you to meet Jeremiah. Jeremiah from, uh, where’d you say you’re from again?”
“Hamden,” Jerry answered.
“Jeremiah of Hamden,” Benjamin said. “And Jeremiah, this is Simon, but some people call him ‘The Zealot.’”
Simon reached out and shook Jerry’s hand. He smiled at Jerry and said, “Hamden, where’s that, near Joppa by the Sea?”
“Um yeah, Joppa, New Haven, Bridgeport, whatever,” Jerry mumbled.
“So you’re one of us, huh?” Simon said. “And you want to kill Romans as much as we do?”
Jerry hesitated and said, “Well, I, uh, the thing is—”
“Of course he wants to kill Romans!” Benjamin bellowed confidently. “He is a fine addition to our group.” Then turning to Jerry, Benjamin explained, “Simon is the one who told us all about the Nazarene, Jesus. Simon told us that Jesus plans to usher in a new kingdom in Israel. And you know what that means, don’t you, Jeremiah? It means the Romans will be gone, and we’ll have our nation to ourselves once again! And the best part is,” Benjamin continued, “Simon is one of Jesus’ disciples. Not just part of the big crowd that follows him, but part of his inner circle, his hand-picked twelve disciples.”
“That’s right,” Simon said with a nod. “It’s just too bad the other disciples are so dense. They don’t understand Jesus’ full potential. They’re more focused on prayers and sermons, so they don’t realize Jesus has the charisma to inspire our nation to take up arms and drive the hated Romans from our land forever!”
At this, all the men in the room offered up a hearty cheer. Jerry looked around the room nervously and forced a smile when he made eye contact with one of the other men.
“Come on,” said Benjamin. “We must go.”
*  *  *

Jerry walked past the massive columns of the Temple, gazing upward with the same astonished expression he had displayed as an eight-year-old when his father took him to Yankee Stadium for the first time. The Temple courts were buzzing with activity. The five men had to navigate through thick crowds. Then Simon called out, “There he is. Follow me!”
The men changed direction and pushed their way across a wide courtyard. The crowd became so thick they could hardly move. Jerry looked up and saw a man standing above the throng. He must be on a platform or some steps, Jerry thought. They pushed a little closer, then Jerry heard the man shout, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you have made it a den of thieves!”
The crowd shouted with approval. Then Jerry saw the man step to his side, and with a quick, fluid motion, he clutched the edge of a table and flipped it over. Coins went flying in all directions. The crowd responded with a roar twice as loud as before. The man kept moving, slapping items off other tables as men in ornate robes jumped out of the way in shock. Frantic cries of distress could be heard amid the steady roar of the crowd.
The man came to a stack of what appeared to be wooden crates. He yanked the flimsy sides off the crates and dozens of birds fluttered out and begin to fly in circles overhead. The crowd roared again. Jerry stood nearby, his mouth agape, and thought to himself, That must be Jesus. Wow.
The people whose merchandise had been scattered finally overcame their shock and begin moving toward Jesus. But before they reached him, Jesus grabbed a piece of rope and swung it like a whip. He started thrashing the rope back and forth, and the other men instantly changed direction and retreated.
The crowd became frenzied. In addition to the loud roar, people began to move toward Jesus. Benjamin hugged Jerry and yelled, “This is it! The revolution begins now!” He opened the front of his robe to reveal the dagger hanging from his belt. He took hold of the weapon and shouted with ecstatic glee, “Let us liberate Israel! Let us spill the blood of the Romans!!” He ran forward leaving Jerry behind.
Jerry pressed his arm along the side of his body and felt his dagger. He left the weapon safely hidden underneath his robe.
Just then squadrons of soldiers entered the courtyard area from two different directions. The soldiers pushed their way toward the overturned tables and the empty crates. The crowd hissed and booed. Jerry looked at the soldiers, who were dressed in strange black hats and tunics. He thought to himself, They don’t look like Roman soldiers—at least not the Roman soldiers I’ve seen in history books and Hollywood movies.
Jerry saw a soldier strike someone with the butt end of a long spear. Another person was pushed to the ground. The crowd’s sound changed from a high-pitched roar of excitement to a lower pitched rumble of fear. A wave of humanity began to pulsate toward Jerry. “Uh oh,” he muttered. “Panic time. This is starting to look like a European soccer riot.” Jerry turned and moved as quickly as he could back in the direction he came from.
After a few minutes of frantically scrambling to stay ahead of the wave, Jerry ducked around a corner and climbed up onto a short wall. The sea of terrified people rushed by. Within ten minutes, the frenzy was over. The vast courtyard was quiet again, with a handful of people milling about. Some assisted those who had stumbled. Others lay motionless. I bet they’re dead, Jerry thought. The soldiers regrouped against a far wall, and then exited.
Jerry hopped down from the low wall and made his way out of the Temple courtyards. When he came to an intersection, he stopped and looked around the strange and ancient city. “Now what do I do?” he said out loud. Tears began to well up in his eyes.

He walked down a long, straight street, which he remembered as the road they traveled to come to the Temple. I guess I should try to find Benjamin, he thought. I guess I should go back to that small room—if I can even find it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, May 29, 2015

Last week the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that New York State was within its rights to ban “Choose Life” license plates on the grounds that the license plates are “patently offensive” and could provoke incidents of road rage.

Wait. What?! A car license plate with the cartoon image of two smiling children and the words “Choose Life” is “patently offensive”? To whom? And it could provoke incidents of road rage? Really? Well, at least the Second Circuit Court acknowledges that pro-abortion people are prone to violence. After all, they think it’s a good thing when helpless babies are dismembered in the womb (or left in a bucket to die if they accidentally get born before the “doctor” can dismember them). As was the case with slavery and the Nazi Holocaust, it’s quite clear the entire pro-choice position is based on the powerful committing violence against the defenseless.

Here’s the bottom line: every time so-called pro-choice people censor pro-life people, they are actually declaring: “We have no good argument.”

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.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hipster Beard: Trendy or Face Mullet?

Admittedly, I’m oblivious to fashion. For example, I just recently noticed that mullet haircuts are no longer in style. Not that I currently have, or have ever had, a mullet. I mean, I’m oblivious to fashion, but I’m not blind. Even back during the 1990s, when mullets were fashionable in certain circles, I mostly snickered when I saw guys with that big, rectangular shock of hair hanging down from the back of their heads. The other day I was watching a movie from the ‘90s, and I noticed many of the characters sported mullets. I said to myself, “Oh wow, I haven’t seen hair like that in a long time — thank goodness!”

Anyway, the point of my mullet musings is to explain that I’m oblivious to fashion. So what I’m about to discuss may be a new fashion trend, or it may be something that’s been around for a while and I’m just finally noticing. I speak, of course, about the hipster beard, which for many guys looks suspiciously like a mullet, except in the front. Maybe we should call it the “face mullet.”

Who decided that it is now cool to look like a Civil War general — but with a pork pie hat and an iPhone rather than a felt Stetson and a saber? Also, I don’t think too many Civil War generals wore skinny jeans and orange Converse All-Star sneakers. But you never know, maybe there was an artillery regiment from the Silicon Valley.

Everywhere you go these days, you see big, bushy hipster beards on young people, mostly men. And as the name implies, the beard makes one hip. I guess even if one is 34 years old and still living in his mother’s basement and working part-time at Starbucks, having that face mullet means he is hip. After all, it’s not his fault the economy is sluggish, and who knew the guidance counselor at school was a tad bit optimistic when she said a Master’s degree in Angst Studies would guarantee a high-paying job?

Hipster beards seem like a lot of work. Yes, I know the guys don’t have to shave each day anymore, but I bet there is still a lot of trimming and grooming involved. There’s a fine line between the hipster look and the homeless look. Civil War generals had big bushy beards mostly because they lived in tents for months at a time, and shaving was rather difficult, especially when enemy artillery shells were exploding all around you. What you can’t see in those old black-and-white still photos from the Civil War are the many beard hitch-hikers: the bugs that found a delightful home in that big ol’ bundle of chin hair. Eww!

So by the time a guy trims and grooms, then combs out food particles and sprays on insecticide, it would’ve been quicker to do a daily shave, like we unhip guys.

Because I am oblivious to fashion, this essay might be five years too late. Maybe the face mullet, I mean, the hipster beard is no longer cool. Fashion is a funny thing. When one person does something unique, he or she is odd. When a handful of people do the same unique thing, it is suddenly trendy and fashionable. But when many people say, “I want to be unique, just like everyone else,” then it’s time for a refresher course on the definition of “unique.”

So maybe the hipster beard is about to go the way of the much-maligned mullet. On the other hand, I came of age in the 1970s, so I’m the last person to be offering any opinion about fashion. Now, where did I leave my lime green leisure suit?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Pentecost: Time For The Holy Spirit — And Some Cake

On Sunday, May 24th, don’t forget to bake a cake and get some candles. It’s Pentecost Sunday, which is the official birthday of the Church. If you didn’t know that, then you’re welcome. I always like to offer helpful service to my fellow man, and giving people a valid excuse to have some cake is one of the nicest things anyone can do—at least in my book. And in my book, cake is required a minimum of four times per week.

On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the event that occurred 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection. All the disciples were gathered in the upper room. Suddenly the room was filled with a sound like the rushing wind. Then little flames of fire appeared and came to rest over each of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues. And the first thing St. Peter said was, “Hey, let’s have some cake.”

OK well, maybe he didn’t actually say that, but I’m sure he was thinking it. After all, it was the Church’s birthday. I hope the little flames over their heads didn’t set the party hats on fire.

Nowadays, we’ve not only lost sight of the fact that Pentecost is the Church’s birthday, but we’ve also lost sight of our need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s face it, the Holy Spirit is often the forgotten person of the Trinity. We say, “God the Father, yes, the Almighty Creator of the Universe.” Then we say, “Jesus Christ, yes, His only Son, our Lord and Savior.” And finally, we say, “The Holy Spirit, well, um, two out of three ain’t bad.”

The Holy Spirit is like the Maytag Repairman in those old TV commercials: no one ever bothers to call Him.

It’s very difficult to comprehend the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and if brilliant theologians struggle with it, I’m certainly not going to be able to explain it. But an analogy I once heard kind of makes sense. Think of God the Father as a lamp, and Jesus is like a light bulb, and the Holy Spirit is like electricity. If you have a lamp and a bulb, that’s a great start. But if you never plug it in and get some electricity flowing, you will remain in the dark.

Knowing that God the Father is our Creator is great. Knowing that Jesus is the Messiah who died on the cross and rose again three days later is wonderful. But if we stop there, it’s just a bunch of interesting information. It’s not a life-changing experience that transforms us from the inside out. The Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity who dwells in our hearts and inspires us to live joyful and victorious Christian lives.

Pentecost Sunday is the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves of how important the Holy Spirit is. Just read the Gospels and the Book of Acts to see how the Holy Spirit can change people. Before Pentecost, the disciples were confused and timid. Don’t forget: they were in the upper room behind locked doors because they were afraid. But when the Holy Spirit filled them with power, they burst out of that upper room—after, I assume, having some cake—and were never timid again. A bunch of simple fishermen and other uneducated people spread the Good News throughout the entire known world and changed the course of human history. It wasn’t because of their talent and skills, it was the power of the Holy Spirit.

So on Pentecost Sunday let’s pray that the Holy Spirit fills us with power, too. And don’t forget to have some cake.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

'Attitude of Gratitude' observation for Sunday afternoon

I am grateful that over 25 years ago my father-in-law, Ed, and my best friend, Steve, helped me design and build the deck off the back of our house. Which means, unlike what I would have done if on my own, that good ol' deck is still as sturdy as a battleship. All it needs is a fresh coat of stain every five years or so. And moments ago I finished the multi-weekend chore of applying stain. I'm grateful the weather is wonderful; I'm grateful the deck isn't as large as I wanted to make it 25 years ago; and most of all, I'm grateful it's done!

Friday, May 15, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, May 15, 2015

Recently Newsweek magazine offered this lament: “Pope Francis still is against gay marriage even as the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments.”

Wait. What?! Did they really write that? Are the editors at Newsweek shocked that the Pope is Catholic? Are they stunned that a man from Argentina, who now lives in Rome and oversees a worldwide religion, is not all that concerned with court cases in the United States? Is there any wonder that Newsweek magazine was sold in 2010 for exactly one dollar?

On the other hand, maybe the editors at Newsweek assume all Catholics are just like the students at LeMoyne College, a Jesuit school in upstate New York. Cardinal Timothy Dolan was invited to be the commencement speaker at graduation this year, but a group of students started a petition to disinvite the Cardinal because of—wait for it—his homophobic opposition to same-sex marriage. So the Catholic Cardinal holds the Catholic view on marriage, and this causes Catholic students at a Catholic college to have a hissy fit. Umm, right.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

‘Attitude of Gratitude’ observation for Thursday afternoon

I am grateful that Jesus offered us this promise: “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It only takes about 5 minutes watching the news or surfing the internet to understand that we are living in crazy times. The veneer of civilization just might tumble down right before our eyes any day now. But despite all that, we truly can “be of good cheer” because we know Who has overcome the world. In case you’re not sure, skip ahead to the last chapter of the story (in the Bible, I mean, not a Tom Clancy novel). In the end, the good guys win!! Things might get really awful for a while, but He is in charge. Take heart, be of good cheer, life is good. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Plagued By ‘First World Problems’

Have you ever pulled away from the drive-thru window and then discovered that instead of a glazed cruller they gave you a plain cruller? If you’re like me, you might respond to this calamity by exclaiming, “Son of a bagel!” (or something like that).

Or how about when you wake up in the morning and realize there are no more “dark roast” Keurig K-cups in the house, and you’re somehow going to have to get by drinking the wimpy “breakfast blend”? If you’re anything like me, you might respond by saying, “Ugh! Why is my life so painful?!” (but quietly if other people are still asleep).

Yes, in our high-stress modern world, it can be difficult making it through each day. Well, while on a business trip to Toronto recently, I had a chance to spend some time with a brilliant young man, who truly is an “international man of mystery.” (Although his teeth are much nicer than Austin Powers’.)

He was born in some exotic place, such as Egypt or Argentina. I should have paid closer attention when he mentioned where his is from, but it definitely was not Suburbia, U.S.A., like 99-percent of the people I know.

Anyway, this young man told me that when he was a teenager, he went to live with his uncle in the Sudan for a couple of years. The food and water supplies were unreliable, and practically every day there were rolling blackouts. In other words, they went many hours each day without electricity or other basic necessities.

Today he is a successful young businessman living the good life, with a high-rise condo in downtown Toronto and a wicked fast Audi. But he has not forgotten his roots. He is fond of making a particular comment whenever someone whines about a fairly insignificant difficulty. He shakes his head and says, “First world problem.”

There are many “First world problems” in addition to those which involve coffee and crullers. For example:

You’re at a fancy restaurant and you realize you’ve just splashed a couple spots of tomato sauce onto your white shirt. If you’re anything like me, you groan and say, “Oh shirt!” (or something that sort of sounds like that).

You’re driving in your car, singing along with your favorite song on the satellite radio, but then you drive past some tall buildings or overhanging trees, and the satellite suddenly cuts out during the best part of the song. If you’re anything like me, when you realize you’re now screeching an a-cappella, falsetto solo, you exclaim, “Oh boogers!” Then you say a little more quietly, after the impact of what you just heard sinks in, “Wow, my voice really stinks, doesn’t it?”

You’re getting dressed in the morning and you discover the sock you just put on has a hole in the toe. If you’re anything like me, you mutter, “This socks!” and then you angrily rip that sock off and are forced to choose one of the other 19 pairs of socks in the drawer. Then, of course, you throw the bad sock in the laundry basket because you’re too busy to throw it in the trash, guaranteeing that you will replay this exact same scenario in a couple weeks.

I guess it’s kind of silly to get upset over all these “first world problems.” My friend told me that in the Sudan, people were very grateful for what they had, and generally speaking, they were happier than most “first world” people he encounters. Maybe it’s time to work on gratitude, and stop sweating the small stuff. I think I might be able to do that — but ONLY if my morning dark roast coffee and glazed cruller are correct.

Monday, May 11, 2015

'Attitude of Gratitude' observation for Monday afternoon

I am grateful for the gift of family. It was great to see our daughters and my parents over the weekend at my favorite sister's beach house in Rhode Island. It was a lovely Mother's Day celebration -- great barbecue, great conversation, and great NON-winter weather at the shore. (I wonder how long I'll dwell on how brutal this past winter was? I usually forget all about it by April 1st, but now it's already mid-May and I can't stop thinking about the blizzards and the minus-15 temperatures we endured a few months ago. If I still squawk about it on the 4th of July, I'll need to get some counseling.)

Anyway, back to family. Yes indeed, it's wonderful to have such loving family members. And I am grateful.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

‘How Come You Catholics Reject the Bible?’

How come you Catholics reject the Bible and follow man-made traditions? Why do you ignore Jesus, who condemned the Pharisees as hypocrites, and said, ‘You nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition!’? Don’t you understand that the Bible is divinely inspired, and the BIBLE ALONE is how God communicates with us? You Catholics insult Jesus by following the Vatican’s man-made traditions. 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 reject the Bible and instead follow man-made traditions?

Well, once again a major problem is that the issue is often framed with “either-or” language: we follow either the Bible or traditions. However, it’s really more of a “both-and” situation: we follow both the Bible and what we call Sacred Tradition, or Apostolic Tradition.

When the above quote by Jesus is viewed in isolation, it may seem that tradition is a dirty word. But was Jesus condemning ALL tradition, or only some particular traditions the Pharisees embraced? Check out these biblical quotations:

I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you” (1 Cor. 11:2).

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15).

Boy, it doesn’t sound like St. Paul, the author of those two Bible quotes, had a problem with tradition, as long as it taught the truth about God.

And regarding the popular doctrine of BIBLE ALONE, if it’s true that the Bible is our sole authority, then that doctrine surely must be taught in the Bible. It probably appears multiple times, right?

Well, by far the most popular verse cited as proof of the “Bible Alone” doctrine is this: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

However, St. Paul said “all,” he didn’t say “only.” And if St. Paul was thinking “only scripture” (which he wasn’t), then he was referring to the Old Testament only, because the New Testament didn’t exist yet. (How could it? As Paul was writing the word “all,” his letter to Timothy wasn’t even finished, let alone many other New Testament writings.)

But surely St. Paul understood that sacred Scripture was the pillar and foundation of our faith, right? In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul wrote, “…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

See? Paul knew that the Bible is — Wait. What?! Paul said the foundation of truth is the church! Oh my, talk about a Catch-22. If someone believes the “Bible alone” is the foundation of truth, then he has to follow Paul’s biblical instructions, which say the church is the foundation of truth. Whoa. Head, meet explosion. Booooom!

One last thought: Who exactly decided which of the many religious texts should be included in the Bible? Well, it was—wait for it—the Catholic Church! At two different Church Councils in the 4th century, the Catholic Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, determined exactly which writings belong in the Bible. So the Bible is a Catholic book. The Bible was given to the world by the Catholic Church! Pretty wild, huh?

So it’s not that complicated. We believe God revealed Himself to the world through both the Bible and Sacred Tradition. Catholics don’t reject the Bible. We love it and cherish it, but we also love and cherish the Apostolic Traditions handed down to us by the Lord Himself.

Oh, and one last thing, in case you’re not sure: Catholics definitely ARE real Christians.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

'Attitude of Gratitude' observation for Saturday morning

I am grateful that for the first time in over three decades, I woke up this morning NOT having a mortgage. That's right, yesterday we made the final payment. This little 3-bedroom suburban home -- with its never-ending yard work, its abundant supply of spiders, and a driveway that seems a mile long when I'm shoveling snow -- is all ours. It's the American Dream, and it feels good! So what's next? Why, put it on the market and downsize to a condo, of course.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The 'Wait. What?!' of the week, May 8, 2015

Many studies show that reading bedtime stories to children is very beneficial. Besides teaching kids to read, bedtime stories help them develop a love for reading and embrace the joys of storytelling and imagination. Experts even say that when it comes to life-long success, the difference between children who get bedtime stories and those who don't is actually greater than the difference between children who attend elite private schools and those who don't. As a result of this information, a sociologist in Great Britain has declared, "In the interest of leveling the playing field, bedtime stories should be restricted."

Wait. What?! Bedtime stories help kids become more successful and productive adults, so because there are some kids who do not have parents who read to them, we therefore should prevent the responsible and caring parents from reading to their kids? In the interest of leveling the playing field?? Unfortunately, this is not an April Fool's joke. Professor Adam Swift identifies himself as a "political philosopher and liberal egalitarian sociologist." (Does he get paid by the number of words in his job title?)

If the goal is to make all children the same -- and apparently the lowest common denominator is the target -- then why don't we just feed them all lead paint? That'll make them dumb. That'll keep them from being too successful in life.

I once heard Peter Kreeft say, "There is no idea so preposterous that someone with a Ph.D. won't endorse it." Who says we don't live in interesting times? Why, we have front row seats to the amazing spectacle of the collapse of Western Civilization. Enjoy the show.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

'Attitude' of Gratitude' observation for Thursday morning

I am grateful that 33 years ago today the most beautiful and wonderful woman in the world said, "I do." My darling bride is an amazing wife, mother, and most of all, my best friend. Thank you, God, for the gift of Joyce.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Watch Out For ‘Exploding Head Syndrome’

The other day I saw this headline on a news story: “20% of population has ‘Exploding Head Syndrome’.”

Whoa, I only thought that happened in the movie “Scanners.” If the headline is true, then this situation is a much greater threat to our country than ISIS, climate change, or worst of all, Indiana pizza shops. If one out of every five citizens is in danger of having his or her head explode, that is kind of serious. But if this is true, wouldn’t there be some telltale signs? Shouldn’t there be a lot of blood stains all over town? As someone who is lactose intolerant, I’ve become adept at slipping away unnoticed from social situations to, um, deal with my discomfort. But if your head suddenly explodes, well, that’s kind of hard to “keep under your hat.” (Groan! I can’t believe I actually typed that corny pun.)

But maybe there is some big government cover-up going on here. Maybe all those windowless vans and black helicopters people claim to see are indeed federal commando squads. And their real mission — in order to prevent social unrest and panic — is to quickly clean up and remove every trace of evidence that someone’s head just exploded.

Now that I think about it, a couple years ago I went to work one morning and asked if Dave was in yet. I was told, “Dave’s gone. He took a new job in California.”

“You mean he just left?” I said. “Without saying goodbye?” Yes, I was told. So I said, “Well, how come his office is completely sealed in plastic, and guys in Hazmat suits are carrying buckets of red stuff to a truck out back?”

There was a long pause, and then I was told, “Hey, there’s cake in the break room!” Darn it, distracted again. Looking back, I wish that instead of sprinting for some cake, I had investigated Dave’s office a little further. Maybe the truth is that his head exploded.

Before I read the news report, I wondered if the website I was viewing was one of those unreliable sensationalist publications, like the National Enquirer, the Weekly World News, or the New York Times. So before I read the article, I did a quick Google search for the phrase “exploding head syndrome.” It turned out this breaking story was being covered by many reputable news organizations, for example, the Washington Post, the BBC, and the National Journal of Bigfoot Sightings.

So with much fear and trembling, and after putting both of my hands on my skull to see if it felt like pressure was building up, I read the article. What a disappointment. It turns out “exploding head syndrome” is a smart-aleck name given to a condition where people hear a loud noise just as they are drifting off to sleep, but there actually is no noise — no gun shot, no thunder, no Bigfoot smashing through the front door. The noise is all in their head.

I don’t doubt that this is a very debilitating condition. It’s hard enough to get a good night’s sleep in our stressed-out, over-caffeinated culture without being jarred awake by a blast of noise that is really not there. But c’mon, having this condition is not exactly the same as having your head explode. The article even quotes medical professional who use the glib but totally inaccurate term “exploding head syndrome.”

On the one hand, it’s disappointing that a sensationalist phrase was invented just to get people to read a rather boring medical story. But on the other hand, it’s good to know that it’s unlikely my head will explode anytime soon. However, I do wonder now what really happened to Dave.