Monday, November 30, 2015

Peace and Joy Possible in This World, Too

Let’s be honest, the primary reason Christianity is so attractive is the promise of eternal life. Jesus said that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will receive everlasting life. What a wonderful offer.

Do the math. Compare all of eternity to our brief 60, 80, or 100 years of life here on earth. It’s no contest. Eternity is a really, REALLY long time. It makes perfectly good sense for people to desire to spend eternity in a place described as paradise rather than in a place described as never-ending torment.

However, many Christians who are very firm in their belief in eternal life in Heaven, are convinced that we are REQUIRED to suffer in this world while we wait for the joy of the next world. Maybe that’s why so many Christians always seem to have such sour expressions on their faces, or why secular critics often describe Christians as people who are haunted by the idea that someone, somewhere might be having fun.

The Baltimore Catechism asks the question, “Why did God make you?” And the answer memorized by school children is, “God made me to know Him and love Him and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him forever in the next life.”

I’ve heard this interpreted to mean, “See, you’ll eventually be happy when you get to Heaven. But for now you’re supposed to sacrifice and suffer and serve God—so just forget about being happy.”

Well, that doesn’t make any sense. If someone truly knows God and loves God and serves God, he or she will be the most joyful person on earth.

Don’t get me wrong; we obviously live in a fallen world. The stench of sin has corrupted our entire planet, which often makes life very difficult. All of us at one time or another are forced to deal with illness, accident, disease, crime, and death. This world is definitely not paradise.

But Jesus never said our life on earth is destined to be a joyless journey of somber sadness. We are not supposed to mope around here with sour expressions on our faces while we wait to go to Heaven. Jesus clearly said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Sure, Jesus was talking about eternal life in Heaven. But He also was talking about having abundant life here on earth. We are supposed to have joy in this earthly journey, despite the struggles and the pain. Jesus wants us to be filled with joy—right here and right now—not just later in Heaven.

A lot of the suffering and pain here on earth cannot be avoided. Illness, accident, and tragedies often strike without warning, bringing pain and grief to people. But there is still a great opportunity to experience joy in this world. And ironically, the best way to experience joy is to do exactly what the Baltimore Catechism says: know God, love God, and serve God.

Those are simple words; after all, they were designed to be memorized by school children. And yet, those words are incredibly profound. Knowing, loving, and serving God are the very things for which human beings were created. They are the fundamental purposes and goals of our lives. 

So yes, the promise of paradise in Heaven for all eternity is very attractive—THE most attractive aspect of Christianity. But Our Lord is a God of immense love. He not only wants us to experience eternal joy in Heaven, He wants us to have a taste of it right now. If we know Him and love Him and serve Him, those sour expressions will disappear from our faces.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, November 28, 2015

This past Tuesday, at a joint press conference with French President Fran├žois Hollande, President Obama said this: “And next week I will be joining President Hollande and world leaders in Paris for the global climate conference. What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists it will be when the world stands as one and shows that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children.”

Wait. What?! “Powerful rebuke”? Does Mr. Obama really think the ISIS terrorists will flee from the battlefield when confronted by solar panels and windmills? Let me see if I have this straight: the goons of ISIS, essentially a 7th century death cult, are spreading like a cancer, murdering innocent people wherever they go, and our fearless leader continues to claim the greatest threat to the world is global warming, er, I mean, climate change, or whatever they’re calling it this week? (By the way, the so-called experts predicted that by now New York City would be underwater and snowy winters would be a distant memory. Check out this article: ) 

Yeah, I’m sure a fleet of Priuses and Chevy Volts, driven by gender studies majors from Yale and Amherst, will pound the ISIS murderers into submission.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Top 10 Famous Movie Quotes

A few weeks ago, while discussing that classic Wes Craven horror flick, “The Sound of Music,” I asked readers to send me a list of their favorite films and favorite movie quotes. Many of the emails I received were quite interesting. (I am, of course, using the definition of the word interesting that means, “Please start taking your medication again.”)

One reader is a big fan of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Bambi.” Another reader’s favorite movies are “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Exorcist.” And yet another reader loves the movie where Bruce Willis is a cop hiding on the upper floors of a high-rise building which has been seized by terrorists. Unfortunately, she couldn’t remember the title of the movie. But I know which one she means. It’s called “Fiddler on the Roof.”

In one of the email replies, a person sent me a link to a website that lists the Top Ten movie quotations of all time. I read through the famous quotes and realized that all ten of them are from “The Sound of Music.” Here they are:

10. When Captain von Trapp is hugging his children, right after singing with them for the first time, Maria hands the Captain a guitar and says, “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’”

9. At the very beginning of the movie, when Maria is dancing and twirling in a mountain meadow and singing the title song, just as the music ends, she looks around, smiles, and says, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

8. During the scene where Rolf rides up to the von Trapp mansion on his bicycle with a telegram, Captain von Trapp opens his jacket slightly to reveal a holstered revolver. He then glares at Rolf and says through clenched teeth, “Go ahead, make my day.”

7. When Maria first arrives at the von Trapp mansion, the butler Franz answers the door and expresses his annoyance at being bothered by visitors. He tells Maria, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

6. When Max Detweiler is negotiating with the organizers of the Salzburg Music Festival and threatening that the von Trapp Family Singers will not appear, he shouts, “Show me the money!”

5. In the gazebo, right after the Captain and Maria sing “Something Good” and realize they are in love, the Captain holds her in his arms, gazes into her eye, and says, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

4. When Maria and the seven children row a boat up to the dock, and then the boat tips over because they got excited at seeing the Captain, Kurt struggles to shore and in a spluttering voice says to Maria, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

3. In the scene where Max discusses his desire to become the musical agent for the nearby monastery choir, he tells the Baroness how he will negotiate with the leader of the monastery: “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

2. Early in the film, when the Reverend Mother sends Maria to be the governess for the seven von Trapp children, as Maria turns to leave the office, the Reverend Mother says, “May the Force be with you.”

1. Toward the end of the movie, when Liesl sees Rolf again, who by now is totally committed to the Nazis, he spurns Liesl’s expressions of love by sneering, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” 

Well, I’m pretty sure all ten quotations are from “The Sound of Music.” I might have to dig out my DVD of the film and watch it again just to be sure.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Is Satan Real?

Over the last few weeks we’ve covered some rather serious topics here, so let’s lighten it up a little, OK? This week let’s talk about … Satan.

Oh, I saw you roll your eyes. Who wants to talk about Satan, for God’s sake? Well, actually, it is for God’s sake that we need to talk about the devil. You see, there’s a very popular idea nowadays that Satan does not exist. A sizeable number of Christians think that Satan merely symbolizes evil but is not an actual personal being. Sure, people acknowledge that there is evil in the world. You’d have to be living in a cave not to notice that the world today is full of murder and violence and destruction—just as it has been ever since Cain killed his brother Abel soon after mankind appeared on this planet.

But when most people say that evil exists, they mean simply that human beings are capable of doing nasty things. They don’t mean there is an actual fallen angel with a mind and a personality who is actively trying to draw us away from the goodness of God and lead us into a life of sin. That idea is way too old-fashioned. It sounds like a superstitious medieval notion of a guy running around in red tights with horns and a pitchfork, and who talks a lot like Snidely Whiplash.

A survey conducted by The Barna Group a few years ago found that 59-percent of people who identify as Christian agreed with the following statement: “Satan is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” 

We are about to enter the season of Advent, as Christians worldwide prepare to commemorate one of the most amazing supernatural miracles in history: the Incarnation, when the almighty, eternal Creator of the universe lowered Himself to become a human being. People sincerely believe that God is personal and that Jesus truly is the Son of God. So we ought to listen to Jesus’ words, right?

Well, Jesus said very clearly that Satan is real. The Lord said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven.” How can a symbol fall like lightning?

Jesus also said this to His adversaries: “You belong to your father the devil….He was a murderer from the beginning, and he does not stand in truth….When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Does it sound like Jesus was referring to a symbol? Does it sound like He was talking merely about mankind’s inclination to do bad things once in a while? I don’t think so. The Lord very obviously was describing the devil as a personal being.

There’s someone else who has commented on this topic. His name is Pope Francis. Just last year the pope said, “This generation, and many others, have been led to believe that the devil is a myth, a figure, an idea, the idea of evil. But the devil exists and we must fight against him.”

The fact is, there is indeed a supernatural personal being who wants to draw us away from God’s goodness and have us suffer the torments of Hell forever. Satan is thrilled when people consciously serve him, and there are many Satan worshippers in our world today. But Satan’s most effective technique is to convince people that he simply does not exist. But they’ll find out soon enough—when it’s too late.

However, the good news is that the power of Christ is way stronger than the power of Satan. So cling to Jesus and rebuke the devil in Jesus’ name. It may seem old-fashioned, but it is true. 

OK, that’s enough of this light and fluffy topic. Next week we’ll get back to the serious and somber stuff.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, November 20, 2015

In a recent interview, President Obama lamented the checks and balances built into the American system of governance. He said, “What I didn’t fully appreciate … is how decentralized power is in this system.” He also often expresses frustration toward the framers of our constitutional system: “I am constrained by a system that our Founders put in place.”

Wait. What?! The man is allegedly a constitutional scholar. Wasn’t he a professor of constitutional law at the Univ. of Chicago? And he’s surprised that we have a system which balances the power of the Executive branch (him), Legislative branch (Congress), and Judicial branch (Courts)? This is news to him? Um, right.

And this week, a second Wait. What?! Does this mean our president really wishes he could wield dictatorial powers? A perusal of his many executive orders—some of which have been blocked by the courts as unconstitutional—would indicate the answer is: Yup. 

Well, he did take office proclaiming that he wanted to “fundamentally transform” our country. (Question: Does anyone desire to fundamentally transform something he thinks is good? Just sayin’.) I guess acting like the Emperor of America is a fundamental transformation.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Key To Success: Pay Attention, Take Notes

People often ask me how I come up with topics to write about each week. It’s simple. I always keep a small notebook in my pocket, and whenever I see, hear, or read about something weird, I scribble a quick note to myself. These notes often become the basis for an entire column. To give you an idea, here are some notes I recently wrote (along with a few extra comments):

  • “News report: 8 deaths this year from shark attack, but 12 deaths so far from taking selfies.” Apparently, people are falling off cliffs or getting hit by trucks as they attempt to take memorable photos of themselves. We heard a lot this past summer about shark attacks, but I don’t remember hearing any news reports about selfie deaths. They should put a warning label on smart phones. Also, I wonder if there is any overlap in those numbers. Did someone with a water-proof camera snap a picture of himself frolicking in the surf at the exact moment he became a shark hors-d’oeuvre? 
  • “Sign at tailgate entrance: ‘No excessive alcohol use’.” My family went to a college football game in September, and that sign cracked me up. Excessive is a perfectly fine word, but in this context, it is completely meaningless. Who defines what excessive alcohol use is? Is it the senior citizen alumni wearing jackets and ties, who were sipping wine at a fancy tailgate party with candles and tablecloths? Or is it the students in a different area who were doing keg stands, having chugging contests, and throwing back shots of tequila? (And the game started at noon, so all this was taking place at about 11:30 a.m.) I bet these two groups would have quite different definitions of the word excessive. The sign might as well have said, “Tailgating rules: Whatever.” 
  • “When I’m alone in the house, I talk to myself constantly. Is that a sign of a problem?” I searched online and found an old expression: talking to yourself means you have a lot of money in the bank. Well, we can cross that one off the list. Another website said talking to yourself means you’re losing your marbles. Um, let’s tentatively pencil that one off the list, too, at least until further review. Still another website said talking to yourself is a sign of creativity. OK, that sounds like a winner. We’ll go with that explanation. 
  • “Drones with cameras — if one hovers over your house, do you have the right to blast it with a shotgun?” This is a contentious issue nowadays, and no doubt new regulations will be hashed out in the near future. But in the meantime, my view is quite simple: you not only have the right to blast it with a shotgun, when the drone’s owner comes looking for it, you have the right to give him a 12-gauge prostate exam. 
  • “News headline: Poisonous snake bites farmer on penis while urinating in field.” That is the news story headline, exactly word for word. However, it’s phrased kind of vaguely, as it could mean the snake was urinating in the field — but I doubt that’s what they meant. The very day I read that news story, I was scheduled to play golf, a game in which the wooded areas are often used as convenient bathrooms. During my round, with unpleasant images dancing in my head, I refused to go near the woods and painfully waited until we got back to the clubhouse before racing to the men’s room. 

So, now you know my secret: pay attention and take notes. Something every teacher I ever had would be shocked to hear me say.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The King of Kings Demonstrates Power in Weakness

For the weekend of November 21 and 22, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King at Mass. It is the last week of the official Church year, which means next week a new Church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. (Advent?! So soon? How can it be the Christmas season again? Wasn’t it just Christmas, like, three months ago?!! Man, time is flying by WAY too fast these days.)

The theme this week is that Jesus the Christ is indeed the King of kings and the Lord of lords. In the first reading, the prophet Daniel described a vision he had: “I saw one like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven….[he] received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.”

In the Responsorial Psalm this week, from Psalm 93, we proclaim, “The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.”

In the second reading, from Revelation, St. John wrote, “Jesus Christ is…ruler of the kings of the earth….he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him.”

Now that’s my idea of a king: power, majesty, glory, everyone bowing down to Him. So, after these three different sections of Scripture, we’re ready for the ultimate kingly passage, the reading from the gospel of John.

In this reading, our King of kings, our Lord of lords, is splendidly robed in…a simple, dusty tunic. He stands majestically with…chains on His wrists and a rope around His neck. His glory is displayed by the…blood trickling down His forehead and the bruises on His face. His power and dominion are evident by the fact that…all His followers abandoned Him.

To top it all off, our King of kings and Lord of lords, the ruler of the universe, who reigns over kings of the earth forever and ever, demonstrates His omnipotence by standing before a two-bit politician who sneers at Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

How odd is this? We celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King by reading about the time when Jesus was weak and powerless, scorned and humiliated, mocked by a bunch of self-serving religious leaders and spineless politicians? That’s being a king? What gives?

The key to this puzzle is the statement Jesus made to Pontius Pilate in the middle of the gospel reading. He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

If you think this earthly life is the only realm of existence we will experience, well, as my mother used to say, “Sonny, you’ve got another think coming.” Our natural life here on earth—with all its selfishness, materialism, lust, and frantic quests for power and prestige—is really just a brief shadow of our true, eternal existence: life in the spiritual world.

In Jesus’ eternal spiritual kingdom, the dominate attitudes are humility, not ambition; sacrificial giving, not greed; love, not lust; and serene joy, not the nagging, unfulfilled emptiness that defines our current secular culture.

In Jesus’ kingdom, the almighty ruler Himself willingly lays down His life for His subjects. This is true kingship. This is the ruler being more concerned about the wellbeing of His subjects rather than His own wellbeing. This is the exact opposite of earthly rulers.

Jesus clearly tells us throughout the gospels how we can enter into the eternal joy of His kingdom. If we focus all our time and effort on worldly pursuits, we not only will endure nagging, unfulfilled emptiness right here and now, we also will forfeit our chance at peace and joy forever. 

Don’t make that fatal mistake. Embrace the King of kings and Lord of lords and His counter-culture values. You’ll never regret it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The ‘Wait, What?!’ of the Week, November 13, 2015

Prompted by the recent events at the University of Missouri, a group of students at Amherst College, who call themselves “Amherst Uprising,” just released a set of demands. One of the demands requires the president of the college to “issue a statement to the Amherst College community at large that states we do not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the ‘All Lives Matter’ posters, and the ‘Free Speech’ posters…. Also let the student body know that … Student Affairs may require [offenders] to go through the Disciplinary Process … and that they will be required to attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency.”

The precious snowflakes at Amherst are exercising their right to free speech by demanding an end to free speech. Wait. What?! Is this an Onion parody? No, unfortunately it is not. These agitated little pinheads are quite passionate and sincere about the need to stifle all dissenting opinions. And they offer this threat: “If these goals are not initiated within the next 24 to 48 hours, and completed by November 18th, we will organize and respond in a radical manner, through civil disobedience. If there is a continued failure to meet our demands, it will result in an escalation of our response.”

I’m guessing when these kids studied Orwell’s novel “1984,” they thought it was a feel-good how-to manual.

It looks like Frankenstein’s monster is turning on its creator. Looney leftist college professors and administrators have been indoctrinating kids for years with the notion that they are all victims, and everything about the USA is unfair and unjust. And now the little darlings are directing their wrath at those very same politically correct administrators, who apparently are not politically correct enough.

Look for hundreds of other college campuses to become quite insane in the next couple months before any common sense prevails. 

Also, I think the phrase, “extensive training for racial and cultural competency,” might be the exact way the Khmer Rouge described their re-education camps, which turned out to be nothing more than death camps. It’d be nice if colleges once again taught History, specifically the history of Stalinist oppression. Just sayin’.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Public Enemy Number One: Bacon

I was walking along a dark, wind-swept street in downtown Torrington. Suddenly, I heard a voice from an alley say, “Hey pal, you wanna buy some primo bacon?”

I paused, looked toward the guy, and said, “What are you, a cop? You trying to entrap me?”

He said, “No, man, I just thought you might want to enjoy some awesome stuff. I just got a shipment in from the Republic of Texas.”

I looked around to see if anyone else was on the street. We were alone. Then I cautiously stepped into the alley, out of range of the security cameras on the street. “Can I take a sniff?” I asked.

The guy smiled and unzipped his coat. He had a total of two pounds of bacon stuffed in his sweatshirt, wrapped in four separate plastic bags. Trying to make casual conversation, the guy said, “You know, ever since that report came out back in 2015, which said bacon is as bad as cigarettes and asbestos, it’s been really hard to get your hands on this stuff.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I replied.

He took one of the plastic bags and slid the zip-lock seal open. “Then when President Hillary appointed Bernie Sanders as Minister of Health,” he continued, “we realized bacon soon would be outlawed. Sure enough, Prohibition went into effect last year, and a lot of desperate people have been struggling ever since to get their fix.”

“You’re telling me,” I exclaimed while breathing deeply, my nose practically inside the plastic bag. The aroma was exquisite. Oh, what delightful memories filled my mind as I smelled that bacon. Sunday mornings with bacon sizzling in a frying pan. BLTs for lunch. And best of all, those breakfast buffets with the amazing stainless steel container practically overflowing with a mountain of bacon. Of course, they always put that bacon tray at the end of the buffet line, and as the late Jim Gaffigan pointed out some years ago, you’d look at your plate and realize there wasn’t much room for any bacon and you’d lament, “What am I doing with all this worthless fruit? I should’ve waited!” (Sadly, Mr. Gaffigan’s comedy routine about bacon was deemed subversive, and he was found guilty of crimes against humanity and executed by the Ministry of Health earlier this year.)

Finally, I looked up at the man and smiled. “How much?”

He said, “I can tell you’re a connoisseur of bacon, so for you, only 50 bucks per bag.”

“Oh c’mon,” I said, “that’s way too much. This stuff is worth no more than 30 bucks.”

He said, “Are you kidding? This stuff is prime. Do you realize how much it would cost if Texas hadn’t seceded from the Union because of the Bacon Law? It’s our only source for the good stuff. I know Canada is closer, but their bacon ain’t real. It’s just weird ham.” He paused, then said, “I’ll tell you what, how about 40 per bag?”

I said, “Deal. Gimme two bags.” As I handed him four 20-dollar bills, suddenly the bright beam of a flashlight blasted in my face and a loud voice screamed, “Freeze!”

Two cops leaped from the shadows. One grabbed my arm, and the other grabbed the bacon dealer.

“Officer, officer,” I yelled. “It’s not what it looks like. Please, you gotta understand, I wasn’t doing anything wrong!”

One of the cops looked at me and snarled, “Shut up! We heard everything.” Then he turned toward the bacon dealer and said, “I’ll give you 50 per bag.” 

The dealer smiled and said, “Clancy! I thought that was you. Sure, how many bags do you want?”

Monday, November 9, 2015

Science Is Silent on the Supernatural

Our culture is becoming more and more secular. An increasing percentage of people now identify themselves as atheists, and while a majority of Americans still claim to be Christian, many no longer believe the basic doctrines of the faith. I think these folks still call themselves Christian because if they told the truth, they’re worried they might not get any Christmas presents.

A recurring claim by non-believers is this: “Science has proven there is no God.” In fact, if you type that statement in a Google search, you get over 45 million results. So it’s a very popular argument nowadays to say there is scientific proof for atheism.

But does that really make any sense? Here is the definition of science, taken right out of the dictionary: “Science is the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena.”

Did you catch that last phrase? Science can only study NATURAL phenomena. The existence of God, life after death, Heaven and Hell, and the spiritual world are all SUPER-natural phenomena. So modern science is really silent regarding religious topics. Questions of faith are simply outside of science’s realm.

If you want to investigate religious questions, to claim that science is the right tool is like saying you want to mow your lawn, and the best thing to use is a trombone. I mean, it’s downright silly.

The popular claim is that science has searched for the existence of God and came up empty. It has found no evidence of God. Well, duh! Science can only speak about natural things, while God is supernatural. Because science finds no evidence for something it is, by definition, incapable of studying, does not prove anything. It certainly does not prove that God is not real, nor that miracles are impossible.

However, modern science has indeed given us some important knowledge regarding the existence of God. Science has discovered just how complex life is. Not too long ago, back in the 19th century, people truly thought biological life was fairly simple. Back then scientists had recently discovered that living organisms are made up of cells, but they really thought the cells were simple blobs of protoplasm.

Now we know cells are incredibly complex, a veritable city of activity, all in miniature. The DNA molecules within each cell nucleus contain a vast database of information, more complicated than a computer software program. And the countless chemical interactions that occur within each cell minute after minute are amazingly intricate. One slight malfunction with these processes and the cell would die.

So science has been very helpful regarding the question of whether God exists. Science has shown that life is so complex and intricate it’s mathematically impossible for living organisms to have come into existence in our world by accident. And of course, the claim that life came into existence by accident is the first and most fundamental doctrine of atheism.

If science shows that life could not have come into existence by accident, how then did it get here? Well, good question, isn’t it? It sure seems like we ought to consider whether a divine, supernatural Creator was involved.

If people choose not to believe that God exists, well, that’s their choice. After all, each of us has free will and we can decide for ourselves what we truly believe. And even though our culture is becoming more and more secular, whether God exists or not is not determined by popular opinion. 

But if someone sincerely decides that God is not real, he or she must not make the claim that modern science has proven there is no God. That would be the same thing as going outside and mowing your lawn with a trombone.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Luggage Goes to the Dogs

You’ve heard about “dog years,” right? For every one year a dog lives, it’s the equivalent of seven human years. So a three-year-old dog is really 21. And a 10-year-old dog is like a 70-year-old person. And there’s that goofy tee shirt, which reads, “In dog years, I’m dead!”

Well, there is a thing similar to dog years and it’s called “boy nights,” and it has to do with traveling and luggage. Basically, whatever a woman requires to be able to spend one night away from home, a guy can make last for seven days. If a woman needs one medium sized suitcase and a shoulder bag to be away for 24 hours, a man can make that same suitcase and bag last seven “boy nights.” Just like dog years, it is a seven-to-one ratio.

To phrase it another way, men require one-seventh the amount of luggage that women require. Now, you might say it’s very sexist of me to make this claim. But actually, I’m going the extra mile NOT to be sexist. Originally, instead of calling this phenomenon “boy nights,” I was going to call it “girl bags.” That’s not a very pleasant term, so as you can tell, I’m bending over backwards to be understanding and chivalrous.  

This major difference in luggage is the result of a major difference in outlook regarding travel. When guys get ready to travel, they want to bring along only what is necessary, and they assume everything will go according to plan. For example, if a guy has to be away on a three-day business trip, he won’t pack an extra pair of pants in his suitcase because he’s already wearing a pair of pants. (I’m assuming this is indeed the case, as most airlines frown on letting people board wearing just jockey shorts.) It never dawns on the guy that while at a dinner meeting with a client he might accidentally spill an entire plate of chicken Parmesan into his lap. If that happens, he’ll have to attend another meeting the next morning looking like he just got stabbed in the thigh. (Or he can attend the morning meeting wearing only jockey shorts, but I think most business clients are on the same page as the airlines regarding the hasn’t-quite-caught-on-yet jockey shorts fashion trend.)

When women prepare to travel, they also want to bring along only what is necessary, but they do not assume everything will go according to plan. Besides the risk of a plate of chicken Parmesan in the lap, there are the uncertainties of weather. It might rain; it might snow; it might get really cold; it might get really hot; there might be a hurricane — even if the business trip is to Kansas City. When it comes to the weather, you never know for sure.

Then, of course, there is the First Commandment of Women’s Fashion: Thou shalt not wear the same outfit two days in a row. This includes shoes and belts and other accessories, which is why the number of suitcases really adds up. The only fashion Commandment for guys is: Thou shalt not — oh wait, there actually are no fashion Commandments for guys anymore. We did away with all rules when Casual Friday turned into Casual Everyday. Now we can wear whatever we want for as many days in a row as we want. 

To summarize, similar to the concept of “dog years,” it’s a fact that guys can make the same amount of luggage last seven times longer than women. And after seven days away from home with a single carry-on bag, we fellas usually smell a lot like dogs, too.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Is God Impressed With Our Giving?

In the gospel reading for the weekend of November 7th and 8th, we learn that the religious leaders in Jesus’ day had a very interesting practice regarding offerings. When it was time to take up a collection, apparently the people paraded up in front of the crowd one-by-one and put in their donations so everyone could see exactly how much was contributed. Whoa, talk about peer pressure.

I prefer our current offering system where you write “$200” in big numbers on the outside of the collection envelope while putting a five dollar bill inside. (I’m just kidding! We really don’t worry too much about showing off to our fellow parishioners. Of course, when April 15th rolls around each year, some folks have a curious habit of telling the IRS that five bucks times 52 weeks equals four grand.)

The Bible says, “Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.” Jesus pointed this out to his disciples and said, “This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.”

We know from the Gospels that Jesus’ disciples did not exactly graduate Summa Cum Laude form Jerusalem University. (I think Peter attended JU for a couple of years on a football scholarship, but went back to the fishing business after hurting his knee.) But even the disciples could do the math and realized that a few cents was nothing compared to hundreds of shekels.

Jesus went on to explain what he meant. “[The rich people] have contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

In mankind’s eyes, it’s the bottom line that counts. If a church started a fund-raising program, and one person donated five bucks while another person donated a million dollars, guess who would get a banquet in his honor and a building named after him? (Hint: it ain’t Five Dollar Freddy.)

With human beings, the amount donated is all that counts—even if the million-dollar benefactor was Bill Gates (which would be like me tossing a dime into the tip jar at Dunkin Donuts), while Five Dollar Freddy lived in a van down by the river. But in God’s eyes, it’s not quite the same. God doesn’t count what we donate, He counts what’s left in our wallet AFTER we donate.

Surveys show the average Catholic in America gives about one-percent of his income to the church, while the average Protestant gives about two-percent. Can you imagine what would happen if Christians suddenly started giving at the level commanded in Scripture, the 10-percent tithe?

And if all Christians started tithing, there would be another wonderful benefit: unbelievers would be amazed by the Christians’ commitment to the faith—and maybe even drawn toward it—as opposed to now, where unbelievers perceive Christians as lukewarm and hypocritical about religion, and have no interest in exploring the faith.

If you really want to know what’s important to a person, look at his checkbook or credit card statement. Many people don’t hesitate to spend tons of money on frivolous things, but when it comes to donating to the church, they suddenly act like they’re getting a root canal without Novocain.

God wants only one thing from us: our undivided faith in Him. When we have a faith that is vibrant and active, we won’t hesitate to share our time and talent and, yes, our treasure with the Lord and His people. 

This is a good week to prayerfully ponder how we are using our resources. We should analyze exactly how we are spending our money and our time. Are we rendering unto Caesar? Are we rendering unto God? Or are we mostly rendering unto ourselves?