Thursday, September 16, 2021

Bad Theology Is ‘Close to You’

 On a recent Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were having lunch, with the radio playing in the background. The song “Close to You” came on, performed by the Carpenters. It’s a lovely tune and was one of the biggest hits for Karen and Richard Carpenter in the 1970s. I’m familiar with the song, since the ‘70s were my formative years for popular music, but I’m not THAT familiar with it. It’s not on any of my playlists and I never paid attention to the lyrics.

I heard Karen Carpenter sing this line: “On the day that you were born the angels got together, and decided to create a dream come true.”

I did a double-take, and said to my wife, “Hey, that is really bad theology. Angels don’t create humans. Only God is the Creator.”

My wife replied, “Well, they probably were so focused on making a hit song, they forgot to send the lyrics to the Vatican to be reviewed by a team of theologians.”

“Oh, hon,” I said. “Everyone knows that pop singers never have their lyrics reviewed by theologians — except, of course, for Madonna, Lady Gaga, and John Lennon’s classic song ‘Imagine’.”
Anyway, I suspect there are countless pop songs that express horrible theology. After all, the music and entertainment business isn’t exactly known for promoting Judeo-Christian values — except, of course, for Madonna, Lady Gaga, and John Lennon. (In case you’re not sure, I mention these three well-known singers in jest. Their songs are not exactly right next to “Amazing Grace” in the church hymnal.)

I was curious whether someone had compiled a list of songs with bad theology — songs like the Carpenters’ “Close to You.” So, I did a search online, and it turns out I could not find a single website that listed pop songs with questionable theology. But I did find many websites with articles that had headlines like these: “Hymns that are teaching bad theology,” and, “When worship lyrics miss the mark.” These websites weren’t complaining about pop songs; instead, they took serious umbrage with church songs. (By the way, Serious Umbrage would be a great name for a rock band.)

The hymns on these various lists fell into three basic categories: 1. Heretical, 2. Man-centered rather than God-centered, and 3. Impossible to sing.

I wasn’t familiar with any of the songs labeled heretical, but the main complaints seemed to focus on minor disagreements about biblical interpretation. In general, the Baptists were upset with Methodist songs, and vice versa. 

The man-centered worship songs are just that: the lyrics are filled with “I” and “me” and “we,” but hardly ever mention the words “Jesus” or “Lord” or “God.”

The song most often mentioned as impossible to sing, and therefore one that ought to be expunged from all hymnals, is that old favorite, “On Eagle’s Wings.” The first verse begins with the words, “You who dwell…” and the first note is a high D, and it soon goes to an ever higher E-flat. No one but the best soprano in the church choir can hope to hit that first note cleanly, and when the entire congregation tries to sing it, the sound is like a bunch of eagle wings all right, flying directly into high-voltage power lines.
 
In conclusion, everyone knows that pop songs are not theologically accurate. They either insult religious faith, or completely ignore faith, or whenever there is any mention of God, angels, or Heaven — like the Carpenters’ song — the statements are so biblically inaccurate it’s comical.

But I never knew there was so much turmoil in the church music world. It reminds me of my favorite religious hymn: “Imagine there’s a church song / It’s easy to sing along / No notes below us / Above us a simple song / Imagine all the lyrics / mention God not me / You may say I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one / I hope someone writes a song / To make church folks be as one.”

The Hot Dog Adventures, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I discussed a study that claimed a person’s lifespan will be reduced by 36 minutes for every hot dog eaten. That essay generated significant feedback, so this column is a follow-up.

If you remember (and maybe you don’t, since hot dogs probably cause memory loss), I calculated the approximate number of hot dogs I’ve eaten in my life. Using 50 hot dogs per year as an average, plus the 36-minute figure, I determined my lifespan will be shortened by 2-1/2 months. This is not exactly a frightening scenario compared to a six-, seven- or eight-decade time period. 

One person wrote to me and expressed shock that I’ve been consuming 50 hot dogs per year during the past six decades. “I know,” I thought. “Less than one per week. That is so few!”

Then I continued reading the email and discovered the person believes that when it comes to hot dogs, any number greater than zero is a health crisis just waiting to happen. The email concluded with this gentle piece of advice: “All processed meats should be OUTLAWED!!!!” (Sometimes I think the primary thing that should be outlawed are hysterical declarations that things someone doesn’t like should be outlawed.) 
Other readers contacted me and expressed concern that something is obviously wrong in my life if I’m barely eating an average of one hot dog per week. One writer offered a succinct summary: “First, no one eats one hot dog at a time. So figure that two hot dogs equals one meal. This means you are having hot dogs for a mere 25 meals per year, out of an annual total of 1,095 meals. That’s pathetic! Step it up, Dunn!” This person signed his name as “Oscar Mayer,” so either he’s a smart-aleck who lives in the newspaper circulation area, or he’s a processed meat industry mogul who has a vested interest in seeing me step up my hot dog game.

I freely admit that hot dogs are not good for you. And although I like the taste of hot dogs, there are many other foods that taste a lot better. But unlike any other food, hot dogs have a very strong sentimental value. When I eat a hot dog I can close my eyes and be transported instantly to Fenway Park in 1967. I was 10 years old and my dad took me to my first ever Red Sox game. Everything about that trip flooded my senses: the sparkling green of the grass, the bright blue sky, the shimmering white uniforms worn by the Sox players, and the odd gold socks and white shoes worn by the Kansas City A’s. Yup, that was their last year in KC before moving to Oakland.

Then there were the hot dogs. They tasted so good. And the thing is, after sitting in a tub of hot water for a couple of hours and then being shoved into a soggy bun, those dogs weren’t nearly as tasty as the ones my father cooked on the backyard grille. But it didn’t matter because they were ballpark franks. (Not to be confused with the brand name, Ballpark Franks.) 

When James Earl Jones gave his famous speech in the movie “Field of Dreams,” he instead could have said, “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been hot dogs....Hot dogs have marked the time.” As long as he was standing in front of a beautiful baseball diamond, it still would’ve been one of the most stirring moments in cinema history.

So, I’m not apologizing for liking hot dogs. And to that gentleman who wrote to me, just remember that if hot dogs are outlawed, only outlaws will eat hot dogs. 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

5-Minute Ride? Stay Hydrated!

 When I bought a car a few years ago, the salesman was very excited to tell me the vehicle came with 8 cup holders. (He also was very excited about pretty much everything. “The men’s room is over THERE!” “Yes, I think it WILL rain tomorrow!” “Let me check with my MANAGER!” Being upbeat is a good thing if you’re in sales, but offering every comment cheerfully loud with a big smile isn’t always needed. “My grandma died YESTERDAY!”)

Anyway, the car carries four people comfortably, which works out to two cup holders per person. Do we really need that many beverages to drive from point A to point B?
 
Back in the olden days, cars came with zero cup holders, but they had a cigarette lighter and lots of ashtrays. I am not saying, of course, that smoking cigarettes while driving is preferred to sipping coffee or water. I’m just wondering when we as a society decided that we simply had to bring some liquid with us whenever we went on a journey of more than 50 feet.
There are popular items nowadays that did not exist a few decades ago, such as travel mugs, insulated water bottles, and Dunkin Donuts drive-thru coffee cups with plastic lids that occasionally stay on. And then there are the ubiquitous plastic water bottles made by Poland Springs, Dasani, and a hundred other companies. (By the way, the Environment says, “Thanks a lot, pal,” to the inventor of that consumer item.)
 
Years ago, people perked their own coffee at home and drank a cup at the kitchen table before heading off to work. As the classic song says, “Woke up. Fell out of bed. Dragged a comb across my head. Made my way downstairs and drank a cup. And looking up, I noticed I was late.” * 

Once at work, there usually was another percolator in the break room for additional cups if necessary. It never occurred to anyone that they also needed to drink coffee on the ride to work. If you have no idea what a percolator is, look it up online. It’s a fascinating invention that sadly has been replaced by “drip” style devices and Keurig machines. (By the way, the Environment says, “Thanks a lot, pal,” to the inventor of the K-cup.)
When I was a kid, I remember only two methods of bringing liquid with you. The first was the canteen, popular with Boy Scouts and guys who had been in the Army. The canteen was an uninsulated metal container that you filled with cold water in the morning, and if there was any water left in it by 3 p.m., it was as warm as soup.

The other item was the Thermos bottle, which was sold with metal lunch boxes, the kind preferred by construction workers. The Thermos bottle was insulated, so at 3 p.m. coffee still would be somewhat warm, or water still somewhat cold. However, the Thermos bottle was insulated using glass, and the first time you dropped it, you’d hear a crunching and tinkling sound, which meant it now was useless — unless you enjoyed your coffee with cream, sugar, and shards.
I fully understand that it’s a good thing to stay hydrated. But do we really need to bring along something to drink for each and every nine-minute car ride? Did our parents and grandparents become faint and drive off the road years ago because there were no cup holders? No, they stayed alert because they were filled with nicotine.

The car salesman said to me, “If eight cup holders are not enough, we can order a few MORE! Or how about some ASHTRAYS?!”

* Bonus points if you can name this song.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Time for the Catholic Men’s Conference

Hey fellas, listen up. It’s time once again for the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference. As we all know, the Covid pandemic caused countless events to be cancelled during the past year and a half. Last year, the Men’s Conference did occur, but they switched the venue to an outdoor facility, New Britain Stadium. Some hearty souls attended, but many of the regulars, such as myself, chose to stay home out of an abundance of caution at the height of the pandemic. 

This year the Men’s Conference again will be held in New Britain Stadium. So, there will be plenty of fresh air for those who are still a little skittish about being in crowded indoor settings. This year’s Conference will be on Saturday, September 25th. The gates open at 7:30 am, and the day-long event kicks off at 8:30. The theme this year is “The Most Holy Rosary.”

The organizing committee has lined up a fabulous group of guest speakers. 
  • Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC. Fr. Don is a prominent Marian priest, and exhibits an unmistakable zeal for the priesthood and devotion to Our Lady. He is a well-known conference speaker on Divine Mercy and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He speaks passionately about these topics in his moving conversion story.
  • Dr. Ralph Martin is a well-known author and is engaged in Catholic evangelization through the non-profit organization that he leads, Renewal Ministries. Two of Ralph’s most significant books are the recently published A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward, and The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints.
  • Gary Zimak is the author of several books, and he is a frequent speaker at parishes and conferences across the country. He is recognized as the leading Catholic speaker on the topic of overcoming anxiety. In addition, Gary is a regular guest on EWTN TV & Radio, Relevant Radio, and he is the host of The Gary Zimak Show podcast.
  • Dr. Blythe Kaufman is the founder of the Children’s Rosary, an international prayer group movement for children.  She is an endodontist and an Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. Dr. Kaufman is the author of the book: Children’s Rosary: A Prayer Group Movement for Children, which has been published in English, French, and Spanish. Her work with children and evangelization has taken her to multiple countries in Africa. Dr. Kaufman can be seen regularly on EWTN's series Children's Rosary.
Besides these great speakers, the Men’s Conference will offer Eucharistic adoration, Confession, lunch, and a concluding Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Leonard Blair.

Did you catch a key word in the previous sentence? No, not the word lunch. I’m referring to Confession.
If you’re like me, the pandemic gave you the perfect excuse for avoiding the Sacrament of Reconciliation. My routine in the years before Covid worked out nicely: Confession at the Men’s Conference in the fall, and then Confession when the guys in my parish went on retreat during Lent. It was the perfect opportunity to go to Confession twice per year with priests who didn’t know me from Adam. (Yeah, at age 64 I’m still nervous about going to Confession with a priest who knows me. I would work on this emotional issue, but then I’d have to speak with a therapist, who would soon come to know me, so that option is out.)

The best aspect of the Men’s Conference is the camaraderie you experience with other guys who are trying to be faithful to the Lord in the midst of our stressful, hectic world. It’s such a joy to spend some time with other men who understand the struggles we all experience nowadays.
So, please mark September 25th on your calendar. It will be a terrific day. You can register for the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference at this website: ctcatholicmen.org. As always, the registration fee is quite reasonable. I hope to see you there. I’ll be the guy in the Red Sox hat waiting in line for Confession.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

St. Joseph Is a Hero

One of my all-time heroes of the faith is St. Joseph. He was the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the earthly father of Jesus. So, obviously, he played an important role in the development of Christianity. His role was so important, he was quoted exactly zero times in the Bible.

Wait, what? There are no words of Joseph recorded in Scripture? That’s right. There are many events that describe what Joseph did, what he thought, and especially what he dreamed. But he had a non-speaking part in the drama. This tells us he was most likely the strong, silent type.
When you realize that in the house of the Holy Family, Joseph was the only one who was a sinner, you kind of feel bad for him. This is a distinctly Catholic view, by the way, as the Church teaches the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This means Mary was given a special grace by God to have been conceived without sin. The thinking is, the vessel that held the divine, sinless, Incarnate Lord should be as spotless as He is. It would be rather awkward if the sinless Jesus was inside the womb of a woman stained by sin. (When I say “stained by sin,” I don’t mean sex, which is a gift from God. I mean the sinful nature we all inherited from Adam: selfishness, cruelty, anger, pride, etc.) Did Mary HAVE to be sinless? No, with God all things are possible. But the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has concluded that Mary’s being conceived without sin is the most logical scenario. 

Anyway, according to Catholic doctrine, Jesus of course was sinless, and Mary also was without sin. The fact that they were the only two people in the history of the human race to be that way didn’t make it any easier for poor ol’ St. Joseph. Whenever anything bad happened in that household, two sets of holy eyes turned and stared at Joseph. “I didn’t do it!” he most likely protested. Then when both Jesus and Mary raised their eyebrows to silently say, “Oh really?” Joseph probably got up and walked out of the room, mumbling, “I plead the Fifth Amendment.” No wonder he said so few words.

(If you think the previous paragraph is sacrilegious, please don’t be offended. It’s just some silly, humorous speculation. I’m sure the Holy Family is not upset by the online musings of a knucklehead who tries to be faithful.)

If it was tough on Joseph being the only sinner in the family, he did enjoy one of the greatest experiences a person could have: he died in the arms of Jesus and Mary.
Wow, it doesn’t get any better than that. Well, I guess never dying would be better, but none of us have that option. So when it came time for Joseph to die, it must’ve been joyously comforting to be cradled in the arms of your loving wife, the Blessed Virgin Mary, along with the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus.

We can have a similar experience, but in a spiritual way. On our deathbed, we can ask in prayer for the Lord and the Blessed Virgin to be with us, and help us make the transition to the other side with hope and courage.

Wouldn’t that be great? At the very moment when we most likely will be apprehensive about what comes next, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, along with His loving mom, can embrace us with hugs of comfort, similar to what St. Joseph enjoyed as he took his last earthly breath.

So, when you read in your Bible about the adventures of St. Joseph (and realize he never said a word), make sure to follow his example. He put all of his personal needs and desires aside to do God’s will. That makes St. Joseph a hero of the faith. And his reward was to be in the loving arms of Mary and Jesus at the moment of his physical death — an embrace that continues to this day and for all of eternity in Heaven. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Good ol’ Days of Cash & Carry

Remember the good ol’ days when there used to be a thing called money? No, that’s not right. There is plenty of money these days, all of it in the form of flickering digits on computer screens. And a lot of those electronic flickers have been created by the Federal government’s over-worked IOU machine. National debt? Hey, what’s another ten trillion at this point?

Nowadays, people can go years at a time without using cash. Paychecks get direct-deposited into bank accounts. All purchases and payments are transacted electronically with debit cards or smartphone apps. Even many parking meters these days don’t take dimes and quarters. Instead you swipe a credit card.

Anyway, what I remember fondly are the days when people had cash. You recall the days of cash, right? It was called “legal tender” or “currency,” and it came in the form of rectangular pieces of paper bearing the pictures of former presidents, except for the most sought-after denomination, which had the picture of that bifocaled kite-flier from Philly.
 
Back in those days, you could walk into a store, select an item, give the cashier cash (hence the name “cashier”), and walk out with your new purchase. It was a nice, simple, and convenient arrangement. 

Nowadays, when you arrive at the cashier’s workstation with your selected item, the first thing you hear is, “Are you a Rewards Club member?”

“Um, no,” you reply.
 
“Would you like to join our club?” the cashier asks.

“No thanks,” you say. “I just want to buy this Red Sox tee shirt.”

“OK, what is your phone number?” the cashier asks.

“Uh, why do you need that? Are you going to call me tonight? Let me remind you that I’m a happily married man!”

“No no, we just want to keep track of your purchases so we can send you special offers,” the cashier says.

“I really don’t want any special offers. I just want this tee shirt.” Then, with the same slow-paced cadence you might use while reading a children’s book to a toddler, you say, “You see, I have this thing called mun-nee.” Then you pull a 20-dollar bill out of your wallet and continue. “And I want to use this mun-nee to buy this shirt. Isn’t that great?!”
Then the cashier says, “I’m sorry, sir. But this is a cashless checkout line. We only take credit or debit cards.”

“So, that makes you a cashless cashier. Hmm, that’s quite oxymoronic.” Then you quickly add, “Relax, I’m not calling you a moron, nor an oxy. It’s just that, well, I wanted to wear this new shirt to the beach this afternoon, but we’ve been standing here so long it’s now dark outside and I guess I don’t need the shirt anymore. Goodbye.”

Many retail outlets stopped accepting cash because of the pandemic, even though the odds of contracting the virus by touching money are the same as winning the lottery — even if you don’t buy a ticket. Let’s see if these stores go back to taking cash when the pandemic finally is over. I’m guessing no.
Earlier this summer, I went to a Hartford Yardgoats game and everything was cashless. I bought a hot dog, and later a bottled water. Then I bought a bag of popcorn and completed the night with another hot dog for dessert. I had to use my credit card four times and the total cost was only about $22. (If I was at Fenway, it probably would’ve been 80 bucks. And don’t forget the $75 for parking.)

I’m waiting for a black-clad, growly-voiced singer to step up to a microphone with his acoustic guitar and say, “Hello. I’m Johnny Debit Card.” 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

It’s Never Too Late to Seek God

Here is a common scenario: someone finds out they have a fatal illness with only months to live. Then a dear friend gently suggests that it’s time for the sick person to “get right with God.” But the person responds by saying, “No, I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I ignored God for most of my life, and now that I’m dying and afraid, it would be selfish and wrong for me to go running to him.” 

Imagine a different scenario: a man discovers that his roof is leaking. His wife tells him to call the roofing contractor located a few blocks away. But the man responds by saying, “No, I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I ignored the roofing contractor the whole time we’ve lived in this house, and now that the roof is leaking, it would be selfish and wrong for me to go running to him.”
Obviously, it’s neither hypocritical, selfish, nor wrong to call a roofing contractor when your roof starts leaking. But not making a call in that situation definitely would be foolish -- unless you enjoy watching your ceilings and furniture and carpeting get ruined by leaking water.

When your roof leaks, you call a roofing contractor. Why? Because he is in the roofing business and he knows how to fix leaks. 

If you find out you have a terminal illness, you should call on God. Why? Because He’s in the eternal life business and He knows how to get you to Heaven.

Yeah, but what about the hypocritical aspect of this situation? If a person ignores God their whole life but then turns to Him when they get real sick, isn’t that being two-faced and selfish?
Not really. Yes, it certainly would be better for people to be close to God during their entire lives. Here are a couple of reasons why: First, there are tremendous benefits to having a relationship with the Lord throughout your life, such as peace of mind, joy, knowing that life has a purpose, and the confidence that God will keep His promise and give the gift of eternal life in Heaven when you die. Second, having a fatal illness with only months to live can be a blessing in disguise, at least compared to other ways that people die. For example, a man who has a massive heart attack and is dead before he hits the ground never has a chance to “get right with God.”

The main reason it is not hypocritical to seek God when things are bleak is because God is our loving Father. If a youngster falls and scrapes her knee, and then goes crying to her mother, does the mom say, “Oh sure, you ignore me when you’re out playing with your friends. But now that you’re bleeding you come running to me. You’re a hypocrite, kid!”?

Of course not. A mother’s love is so powerful she only wants to comfort her child. God is the same way. When we’re hurting and we run to God, at that moment all He cares about is comforting us. It doesn’t matter if we’ve ignored Him for the last 40 or 60 or 80 years. His parental love is so powerful, the past is forgotten.

It’s best to enter into a loving relationship with God sooner than later. After all, as Scripture says, “No one knows the day or hour.” Some people never get that chance.
But if you or a loved one ever have to face the tragic situation when a doctor says it will be only a matter of a few more months, don’t let your pride get in the way and claim it would be hypocritical to get right with God at that point. Turning to God right then and there would be the most comforting and joyful thing you could do. And spending eternity in the paradise of Heaven is pretty terrific, too.