Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Time for a Digital Sabbath Rest

A few months ago, I mentioned my friend in Israel, Alan. He is a devout Jew and faithfully observes the Sabbath each week. From sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, he and his family detach themselves from the hectic, modern world: no work, no travel, no TV. They just rest and pray and enjoy each other’s company.

When I wrote that essay, I discussed the fact that Catholics used to honor the Lord’s Day, Sunday, by resting and refraining from work. Raise your hand if you can remember the “blue laws,” and the fact all the stores were closed on Sunday? (Uh oh, if you raised your hand, you’re showing your age!)

Nowadays, of course, for the average Catholic, Sundays are filled with shopping, traveling, catching up on office work, and the completely out-of-control youth sports activities. (Let me clarify: if parents have to be in Stamford at 9 a.m. for Sally’s soccer game, and then in Norwich at 2 p.m. for Tommy’s lacrosse game, and then in suburban Boston by 7 p.m. to pick up Davey from his hockey tournament, that’s is the definition of “out-of-control” youth sports. That is an insane schedule no matter what day of the week it is.)

It’s unlikely American Catholics will every return to the “good ol’ days” of honoring the Lord’s Day by staying close to home, enjoying a meal with family, and then taking a long nap. But maybe we could try something tailored for our modern age. I’m thinking of this: a digital Sabbath rest. What I mean is, we take one day of each week and shut off all the digital devices to which we have become so addicted.

Do you think that is possible? Can you go a full day without using your smart phone, your iPad, or your computer? Can you go an entire 24-hour period without the Internet, with no emails, and no text messages? Is that humanly possible? Whoa, I can hear you screaming “No!!” right now through my laptop computer. (And that would include no laptop computers, too.)

What I am proposing is this: on one day of the week, we should try living with only 1943 technology: radio, newspapers, magazines, books, note pads, pencils. And in 1943, there was gas rationing because of the war, so people did not drive far. They stayed close to home, and rested and relaxed. What a concept!

Here’s a compromise: at noon, you can turn on your smart phone and check to see if there are any urgent messages. After all, you don’t want to be completely out of touch if there is a family emergency. But no Internet surfing while you phone is on—and especially no Satan’s Book, er, I mean, Facebook. Just check to make sure there are no emergencies and then turn the phone off. You can turn the phone on briefly in the early evening to check again for urgent messages.

If the very idea of detaching from digital technology for one full day is making you feel anxious right now, then that is a clear sign you really need to do it. (And just so you know, every time I type the word “you,” I also mean “me.”)

Just think of how beneficial it will be for your body, mind, and soul to relax with a good book while the radio is playing soft music in the background. Then after a while, pray the Rosary. Then go outside and take a nice walk. After that, take a long nap.

If you feel the urge to connect with another person, try an ancient method of social media: speak to someone face-to-face. I know, I know, that is a bizarre concept nowadays. But it really works, and people used to do it all the time before the smart phone era.

I suspect there is no chance American Catholics will ever be as zealous in honoring the Sabbath as my friend Alan in Israel. But we have turned the Lord’s Day into just another hectic rat-race day, and that’s not right.

I know a digital Sabbath rest will be difficult. But we should give it a try anyway. It just might keep us from losing our minds—and our souls.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

World War II Bombers: an Emotional Experience

Back in September, I climbed through two vintage World War II bombers, a B-17 “Flying Fortress” and a B-24 “Liberator.” I would’ve signed up for the 30-minute ride on one of the aircraft if I had an extra $450 laying around, but the last time I had an extra $450 laying around was, um, never.

The planes visited Waterbury-Oxford Airport. It was a very emotional experience just being onboard these cramped flying machines, as it made me realize that an entire generation of Americans gave up their youth to defend our country.
A month later, there was another emotional experience when the very B-17 I had squeezed through crashed at Bradley Airport, killing seven of the 13 people on board. What a tragedy.

Seeing those World War II bombers prompted me to check out a book from the library, The Wild Blue, by Stephen Ambrose. The book follows the experiences of the late Senator George McGovern, who as a young man from South Dakota joined the Army Air Force. Eventually, he became a pilot and was sent to Europe to fly B-24s over Germany and Austria. Somehow, he survived 35 missions.

I’d like to relate the most poignant episode of the book: On a particular mission, one of the 500-pound bombs got hung up and did not drop from the aircraft. Whenever that occurred, it was very dangerous, since a hard landing when returning to base could detonate the bomb and kill everyone on board.

So, Lieutenant McGovern flew the plane at a relatively low altitude near the Austrian Alps as crew members desperately tried to dislodge the bomb. Finally, it was freed and fell from the plane. Then the crew watched in horror as the bomb made a direct hit on an isolated farmhouse, destroying everything in sight. McGovern looked at his watch. It was exactly noon. Being from South Dakota, he knew farmers always gather at the house at noon for lunch. He and the rest of the crew were devastated, and were haunted for years knowing the bomb most likely wiped out an innocent family.
Fast forward to the mid-1980s. Political statesman George McGovern was in Austria, and while there did an interview with an Austrian TV station. After explaining to the reporter that although he had been a strong critic of the war in Vietnam, especially the bombing campaigns against North Vietnam, he believed Hitler had to be stopped, so his B-24 bombing missions were justified. Then McGovern added, “There was one bomb I’ve regretted all these years.”

Curious, the Austrian reporter said, “Tell us about it.” So, McGovern told the story of the stuck bomb and the isolated farmhouse and the guilt and sadness he carried for so many years.

After the show aired, an old Austrian farmer called the TV station and said it was his farmhouse that had been destroyed. But he explained that when he heard the airplane approaching, he took his wife and children out of the house and they all hid in a ditch. When the bomb destroyed the house, no one was hurt. When the TV station called and relayed the story to McGovern, he was overwhelmed. He just collapsed in tears and relief. Four decades of guilt and sadness disappeared. He joyfully explained, “It seemed to just wipe clean a slate.”
In light of the tragic crash at Bradley, I suppose these vintage planes should not sell rides to the public anymore. But I hope these aircraft still visit airports around the country, so spoiled, pampered Americans — like me — can better understand the sacrifices an entire generation made in the 1940s.

In honor of Veteran’s Day next week, check out the book about McGovern from the library. And if you don’t know what a library is, Google it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Which Worldview Makes Sense – Part 2

Our topic today is fairly simple: how did human beings come into existence, and what is our purpose in life? (Fairly simple? Yeah, right!)

In part 1 last week, I discussed the reason why there must be some kind of supernatural Being which designed and created biological life on earth. This week I want to explore which of the many religious worldviews offers the most plausible explanation about these important questions. In other words, of all the unlikely creation stories, which one is most likely?

First, we need to examine whether the Creator is an impersonal force or a personal being. Logic tell us that the created beings (humans) cannot be greater than their Creator. If we are personal beings, with the ability to communicate and enter into loving relationships, then it is impossible for our Creator not to have these same abilities.

So, the only conclusion is that the Creator of mankind is personal, and he/she/it possesses the ability to communicate and enter into loving relationships with other personal beings.

Now, the next step is to examine our situation as humans here on earth. I hate to say this, but the two most prominent traits of human beings are selfishness and cruelty. How do historians mark mankind’s milestones? By listing all the various wars and conquests. It’s in our very natural to be lustful, covetous, dishonest, and violent.

But at the same time, mankind instinctively knows that certain things are right and other things are wrong. We have a moral code built into our very souls. And yet, we regularly fall short of living up to this moral code.

So, here is our dilemma: some sort of supernatural Deity created us and instilled in us a moral code. But we regularly ignore this moral code and instead follow our selfish and destructive urges. This is called sin. There’s a huge gap between how we live and how we ought to live.

OK, let me now skip past years of personal study and cut to the chase. What I’ve just described about mankind’s situation can be summarized this way: human beings need a Divine Savior.

We were created by a holy Deity, but something about our very nature causes us to fall far short of holiness. One faith tradition claims that the holy Deity selected a small tribe of people and revealed Himself to them. A key component of this interaction was the transmission of the divine law, a set of rules and regulations that said, in effect, here are instructions on how to behave, and if you follow these laws perfectly you will be in perfect communion with Me.

From that point on, the history of those Chosen People was one long struggle to uphold the divine law, but they always fell short. Another faith tradition, which grew out of the first one, claims that at a certain moment in history, the divine Being took on human flesh and walked among us. He came from the Hebrew people—because they knew better than anyone how impossible it is to be perfectly holy—and He came to offer an answer to mankind’s biggest problem: forgiveness of sin. This God-man, who was sinless, offered up His life as payment for mankind’s sins. Then He rose from the dead, conquering death once and for all, and promised that if we put our faith in Him, we could do the same.

This, obviously, is just scratching the surface about Christian doctrine. But if you’ve studied it for three decades, as I have, you’ll understand that no matter how implausible it seems at first glance, it is the THE most plausible of all the explanations about human life.

We were created by a holy God. But our relationship with God was damaged by our sin. Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, came to bridge the gulf between holy God and sinful man. If we put our faith in Him and accept His gift of forgiveness, our relationship with God will be restored.

I beg you, please, spend some time studying the fundamental claims of Christianity. Then compare them to the claims of the many other religious traditions. I think you’ll find that the person of Jesus Christ answers our most basic longings. You’ll also experience a joy and peace you never thought possible—now, and for all eternity!