Saturday, May 8, 2021

Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable

Here is the headline of a recent article on a Christian website: “God Made You for Happiness in Heaven, Not Comfort on Earth.” I was pretty sure the article was going to make me feel guilty, so I didn’t bother to read it.

In my mind, I acknowledge the truth of that headline. After all, if it’s true that our eternal souls will spend forever in either one of two situations, the joys of Heaven or the torment of Hell (which is exactly what Christianity has taught for 2,000 years), then it’s a no-brainer that we should do whatever it takes to make it to Heaven, even if it requires discomfort here on earth. (I believe Jesus’ famous “no-brainer” discourse is found in Luke’s gospel.)
Yeah, in my analytical mind that makes perfect sense. It’s like a simple financial decision. Imagine if a wealthy banker offered you this proposition: “You can have either $100 right now, but nothing more after that. Or you can wait a week and then have $1,000 per day, every day, for the rest of your life. Which do you choose?”

I don’t even need a pencil and a calculator to figure that one out. Obviously, going without any payment for seven days is well worth it, since in one week’s time you’ll be set for life.

So, in my mind the prospect of eternal happiness in Heaven is well worth missing out on some comfort right here and now. Unfortunately, most of my decision-making skills no longer take place in my head. That function pulled up stakes years ago and relocated a few feet south to my gut. What I’m saying is, I am an American living in the early 21st century, and as such, most of the decisions that should be made logically with my intellect are now being made impulsively with my gut, which symbolizes my physical desires.

If that article headline had said, “God Made You for Happiness in Heaven, Not Laziness on Earth,” I would’ve joyfully started reading right away. I know I’m not lazy. After all, I wake up every day by 5:30 and exercise for 45 minutes before showering and then leaving the house. Then I work for 8 or 10 hours at my job. Not until I arrive back home do I finally relax and unwind.

But the headline didn’t say laziness. It said comfort. That’s the primary focus of American life nowadays. Yeah, I wake up by 5:30 — and get out of a very comfortable bed, and step onto lush carpeting inside a warm and dry home. And I exercise for 45 minutes — on an expensive exercise machine, wearing expensive, comfortable workout sneakers while listening to expensive Bluetooth earbuds. Then I go to work — in a car with heated seats, air conditioning, and a fancy music sound system at my fingertips. And I work all day — in a comfortable office chair, surrounded by computers, a coffee maker, a refrigerator, etc., inside a climate-controlled building. Throughout the day I eat whatever and whenever I want — usually upwards of at least five square meals per day, not counting snacks.
 
In addition to all this physical comfort, I have gladly embraced our society’s offer of emotional comfort. It’s a simple contract: if I agree to work each day, pay taxes, and avoid breaking the law, then in return society agrees to use my taxes to isolate all the seedy aspects of life in “those” neighborhoods plus various hidden institutions. I can fulfill my Christian duty to feed the poor and comfort the afflicted by simply writing a check. I never have to see any unfortunate souls face-to-face.
 
And if the news reports on TV start to discuss the plight of these unfortunate souls, I can quickly switch to one of many sporting events being broadcast and return to my emotional comfort zone. How nice. How convenient. How utterly lacking in any Gospel grace.

So, what am I going to do about it? I haven’t the foggiest idea. This essay didn’t turn out anything like I planned when I started typing. I thought I would focus on the word “comfort” and use examples like motorized reclining chairs, heated toilet seats, and foot massagers. Ha ha, we Americans sure are addicted to comfort!

But then as I typed away, this piece veered off in a surprising and somber direction. (“Thanks a lot, Holy Spirit,” he said sarcastically.)
 
Here’s an old saying: Christianity comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. I didn’t even have to read that original article to feel guilty. My own conscience (prompted by you know Who) did that for me.
I’m really not sure what I will do now. But I hope it doesn’t turn out that the comfortable lifestyle I’ve worked so hard to create is actually the equivalent of choosing to take the $100 right now because I’m too focused on instant gratification to wait a mere seven days.

I’d better go back and read Jesus’ “no-brainer” discourse again. 

Political Media Get Rich Using ‘Confirmation Bias'

 Like many people, I have my personal political views, and I visit a number of politically oriented websites each day. About 18 months ago, I decided to try something different. I made a point of reading not only the articles on websites I always frequented, but also articles on websites that represent opposing opinions. I didn’t change any of my views, but it was a real eye-opening experience.


I think this example summarizes it: the morning after the second Trump-Biden debate last fall, one conservative website had an article with this headline: “Trump Takes Charge, Biden Tells More Whoppers.” A progressive website had an article with this headline: “Joe Looks Presidential, Trump Is ‘Liar in Chief’.”

Did either of these writers even watch the debate?! What I saw on TV was a couple of guys spouting the usual campaign talking points; that is, a mixture of somewhat truthful statements seasoned with a large dose of malarkey. (I don’t regularly use the word malarkey, but the editors prefer that I avoid using the crude and common expression for bovine droppings.)

All the political websites, regardless of their core beliefs, claim they are presenting the real truth, while their opposition presents total lies. Browsing through websites from both sides of the spectrum, however, made it very clear that BOTH sides are severely biased. Both sides cling to very firm narratives, and they do not deviate from their narrative, no matter what new information is discovered. Also, both sides portray anyone with an opposing viewpoint as not just a political opponent, but as the evil enemy. (“Re-thug-licans” and “Demon-crats” are popular terms.)

Recently, a Catholic priest I respect a lot, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, wrote an article about certain Catholic websites that focus exclusively on Church scandals and corruption. What he wrote applies to political websites, too: “The doom merchants have discovered a deep well from which to draw. This is the everlastingly rich well of human fear and self righteousness.”
 
All the political websites I’ve visited, including the ones that share my views, cleverly exploit the two things Fr. Dwight mentioned: fear and self righteousness.
There’s a concept known as “confirmation bias,” defined as the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs. The reason people seek to have their beliefs confirmed is a little molecule called dopamine.

Dopamine triggers happiness in our brains. When we read something that confirms our beliefs, our brains get a jolt of dopamine, kind of like a tiny hit of crack cocaine. You probably know people who are addicted to political websites and cable TV shows. Calling them “political crackheads” is not an exaggeration.

The political websites and cable shows know all this, and they purposely inflame fear and self-righteousness on a daily basis because it increases TV ratings and website traffic. They are just as bad as the social media giants, who treat us all like lab rats while their sophisticated algorithms dole out hits of dopamine to our restless brains.

Try this experiment: on one side of the spectrum you have, for example, Fox News, Townhall.com, and DailyCaller.com. On the other side there is MSNBC, Huffpost.com, and DailyKos.com. Whichever group you usually prefer, also spend time watching and reading the other. In short order, you will discover that NO ONE on either side is your friend. They’re all stoking outrage to make money, and in the process putting us at each other's throats.
You may be surprised to discover the people who don’t agree with you politically are just normal folks, not the evil enemy. It’s not the worst thing in the world to step out of the angry echo chamber for a while.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Take a Bite from Apple Inc.

 Some of my favorite electronic gizmos are made by the Apple company, such as my iPhone, iPad, AirPods Pro, and Apple Watch. The official Apple logo is the image of an apple with a bite out of it. When the logo was introduced years ago, people at the company explained the image represents the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden, the “apple” eaten by Adam and Eve. 

It was further explained that the biblical forbidden fruit came from the Tree of Knowledge, and the overall goal of Apple Inc. always has been to provide people with knowledge, in the form of innovative products that help customers make the most of information. There’s no doubt our society has been inundated with information over the past few decades, with Apple being a major part of the so-called digital revolution.

I suppose you could make the case that too much information, especially easily spread false information, does more harm than good in our society. But in general terms, the more knowledge we have, the better off we are.

Therefore, some people might wonder why the Lord God told Adam and Eve they were not allowed to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Why would God want our original ancestors to be ignorant? Why did He want to prevent them from learning more?
 
Why did the world have to wait eons for the Apple company to come along and build on the immortal words of college founder Emil Faber, who brilliantly proclaimed, “Knowledge Is Good”? Is this another case of organized religion trying to keep the masses ignorant, until progressive visionaries could break the shackles of Church oppression and provide the tools for people to grow in knowledge?

Well, if that’s the narrative you’ve heard over the years, it’s not surprising. Religious traditions, especially Christianity, are often accused of opposing science, and the Genesis story, with its domineering God who wants to keep Adam and Eve ignorant, fits right in with that viewpoint.

However, the truth of the matter is quite different. First, if you read Genesis, the tree in question is not called the Tree of Knowledge. God did not order Adam and Eve to remain ignorant. The more knowledge and wisdom mankind accumulates, the better off we are and the closer we can draw to the all-knowing Creator of the Universe. Surely brilliant Christian minds like St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Sir Isaac Newton did not shy away from acquiring knowledge.
 
The tree in the Garden is actually called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. OK, but if that’s the case, why would God forbid Adam and Eve from learning what is good and what is evil? It seems like those would be helpful things to know.

Yes, knowing good and evil is indeed very important information. How can we do the right things and avoid the wrong things if we don’t have the knowledge of good and evil?

The answer is simple: we can’t do the right things if we don’t have that knowledge, and we are commanded by God to have well-formed consciences so we can know the difference between good and evil.

In Adam and Eve’s case, they already had a basic education on good and evil: doing what God tells you to do is good, and doing what God forbids is bad. Many theologians explain that eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not the moment Adam and Eve learned the definitions of right and wrong. Instead, it’s when they made the decision to ignore God’s definitions and instead decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong. They were the first to go down this self-centered, prideful path, which the Church calls “original sin.”
 
When human beings, collectively or individually, ignore God’s law and decide to define morality for themselves, the results inevitably are chaos and heartache. Thousands of years of recorded human history bear this out.
So, feel free to enjoy your Apple products. They are indeed amazing and useful high-tech devices. But when you look at the back of your iPhone and see that apple-with-the-bite logo, remember that the brilliant minds at Apple really don’t know much about the Bible.

Knowledge is and always will be good. Ignoring God’s law and deciding for yourself what’s right and what’s wrong is and always will be bad.

Some Introverts Are Not Looking Forward to ‘Normal’

 A few weeks ago there was a story in the Washington Post titled, “Meet the introverts who are dreading a return to normal.”

It seems a sizable portion of our population actually prefers social distancing and lockdowns. Now that the vaccine rollout is offering a light at the end of the tunnel, these folks are apprehensive that life will go back to the way it was before the Covid pandemic occurred. Most of the introverts quoted in the article explained that they feel uncomfortable in the typical work environment, specifically all the gossip and forced small talk, the large gatherings, and the noisy open office floor plans. Personally, my greatest fear at work is the ominous stuff growing inside the break room refrigerator.

When millions of employees were required to work from home when the pandemic struck, these introverts were delighted. Suddenly, they were free from all the invitations, the meetings, and the social outings that take up such a large portion of everyday life during normal times.
The article made the point that these people are not anti-social or emotionally impaired. They’re just the personality type that tends to be quiet and shy, and they struggle to feel comfortable in social settings, especially with a lot of strangers present. Just like most people, the introverts enjoy going to restaurants and being with their close friends. But they don’t like the relentless social events and the feeling that they always have to be “on,” which is typical in most modern work environments. Instead, they enjoy quiet time and being alone.

Introverts can be very engaging socially, the article explains. It’s just that those social occasions are very draining. Apparently, the main difference between extroverts and introverts is that extroverts enjoy social situations and draw energy from the experience. Introverts, on the other hand, usually function well socially, but the experience saps their energy.
 
I can relate to that. Even though I’ve been working in sales and marketing for the past 35+ years, I’m definitely more of an introvert than an extrovert. For example, when I’m at an industry event with a lot of unfamiliar people, and everybody is “talking shop,” I join in well enough, but after an hour or so, I’m beat. My mental energy level feels like an old cell phone with no charger cord available. The little battery symbol turns red and drops below 10% very quickly.
 
Although I land on the introvert side of the scale, I disagree with the people quoted in the Washington Post article. I most definitely want this pandemic to be over! I want to get back on the road and see my favorite clients in the flesh rather than on blurry Zoom meetings. I want to go to family picnics and ball games again. I want to get on an airplane without feeling like I’m taking a terrible risk. (I mean the risk of contracting Covid, not the risk of eating airline food.) I want to go to church and not wonder if the person right behind me is dangerous — other than having a dangerously awful singing voice. (Oh wait, that’s what the person in front of me is wondering.)

When things finally get back to normal, maybe we can slowly phase in the old face-to-face social interactions, rather than do everything all at once. This way, the introverts among us won’t be overwhelmed. After all, since so many people have been working from home during the past 14 months — most of that time wearing sweatpants and working a few steps from the fridge — before we jump into in-person social situations we first need to do a couple of things: lose 20 pounds and buy some new clothes.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Why Do Our Bodies Break Down with Age?

 Do you ever wonder why our bodies fall apart as we get old? Personally, I wake up each morning nowadays wondering which body part has been placed on the injured reserve list during the night while I slept. Elbow? Hamstring? Ankle? Colon? Semi-colon?

In just the last year, I have thrown out my back while sneezing, pulled a muscle in my left shoulder while combing my hair, and sprained my right knee while, um, while doing nothing. One day it just swelled up for no reason and I limped for a week.
 
And that’s just the orthopedic, muscle and bone stuff. I’m not sure exactly what’s going on with all my internal organs as I get older, but I know it’s not good, especially since I now have more doctors than friends.

So, it’s just a fact of life that our bodies slowly but surely break down and wither away as we get old. The question is, why? Why do our bodies relentlessly deteriorate with age?

What if things were different? What if our bodies developed normally from birth to age 30, and then at that point just leveled off. From age 30 on, our bodies just stayed exactly the same: no receding hairlines, no baggy eyes, no shrinking muscle mass, no expanding bellies, no flab, no sag, no wrinkles. For the next 50 years we looked and felt exactly the same: a spry and healthy and energetic 30-year-old. And then sometime in our 80s or 90s, we suddenly would keel over and die. At least at the wake people wouldn’t be lying when they said, “He doesn’t look a day over 30!”

There would be some interesting ramifications if our bodies stayed age 30 for five or six straight decades before we passed away. The hair coloring industry would collapse, as would the companies that manufacture dentures, Velcro sneakers, walkers, and Bermuda shorts with the waistline just below the armpits. We would hear sports announcers say something like this: “Biff Walenski is entering his 52nd season as a Red Sox starting pitcher. He’s in the 33rd year of his record-breaking 45-year contract.”
I think I know why God created us with bodies that fall apart over time. He wanted to give us an opportunity to become humble. Basic Christian philosophy tells us the worst sin — the one thing most likely to keep us separated from God — is pride. And there’s nothing that encourages us to be prideful more than a young, healthy, vigorous body. When we are in the prime of life, we really feel like WE are something special, WE are in control, WE are the masters of our fate, and WE really have no need for God since WE can take care of ourselves. 

However, when our bodies deteriorate, we have to give up some or all control and depend on others to assist us. This is very humbling. When this happens, as it inevitably will (unless something else happens first: an unexpected sudden death at a young age), we can handle the situation in one of two ways. We either can get angry and bitter about our failing health, and in the process become just a delight to be around. (Did you notice my sarcastic eye-roll as I typed the word “delight”?) Or we can gracefully accept what’s happening to us, and smile as we tell God, “You’ve got a weird sense of humor, Lord.”

The opposite of pride is humility. Being humble is the exact state of mind God wants for us — or more accurately, the exact state of heart God wants for us.
 
Our steadily deteriorating bodies can be a source of extreme frustration. But we need to understand that it’s really a blessing from God. It’s God’s way of reminding us that we are dependent on Him. It’s His way of giving us a chance to stifle our pride and learn a little humility. 

Each day when we wake up and discover yet another body part has been placed on the injured reserve list, instead of getting angry, we need to laugh and look heavenward and exclaim, “Dear Lord, you are a funny guy! Now, since you got me into this mess, please give me the grace to deal with it!”
Getting physically old and frail is inevitable. But having a humble and childlike soul can be ours forever. We just need to remind ourselves Who is in charge, and Who promised that He would never leave us or forsake us.

(Oh, and once we get to Heaven, I’m pretty sure our bodies will be 30 years old forever, except this time around without all the pride and.)

The Amazing Smart Phone Weather App

 My smart phone has a weather app that comes in handy. It tells me the current conditions: temperature, humidity, wind speed, and cloud cover. It also shows the forecast, a colorful radar map, the sunrise & sunset times, and it does my laundry. (No, I’m kidding about the laundry thing. But if a software developer could make a phone app that does laundry, I definitely would be interested.)

Not only does this app provide weather information for my location, I can type in any city or country and it instantly displays the weather for that place. Back on chilly days in January and February, I would type in Moscow, Russia, just to put things in perspective. Suddenly, the 17-degree temperature here in Connecticut didn’t seem so bad.

The phone app, however, does one thing that makes me roll my eyes. It offers a 15-day long-range forecast. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am very impressed with the technology used by weather forecasters nowadays. After all, I remember as a kid watching Charlie Bagley on Channel 3, and he would say something like, “Well, I just got off the phone with my brother-in-law in Scranton. He said it’s starting to snow there, so my forecast is that it’s going to snow here in about three hours.” Then he would shrug his shoulders and mutter, “Or just keep looking out your window.”
So, the plethora of meteorological technology available nowadays is amazing. (I just tried to speak that sentence clearly three different times, and didn’t come close even once.) With all the data from around the world, the instantaneous updates, and the interactive colorful radar maps, I’ve never been more informed regarding the weather.

But a 15-day long-range forecast? Really? That can’t possibly be accurate. I decided to test it out back in mid-March. I picked a random date near the end of the month, and then each day wrote down what the weather app predicted would happen on that date. Two weeks out, the app said it would be 55-degrees and partly cloudy. The next day the app made a revision: 58 degrees and partly sunny. (I’ve never understood the difference between partly cloudy and partly sunny. Aren’t both parts present, partly?)

Anyway, the third day I checked and the new forecast was 54-degrees and cloudy. The next day it said 51-degrees and showers. Each day the forecast for the particular date changed slightly, and over the course of two weeks it pretty much ran the gamut from nice and sunny to cold and rainy, and everything in between.

When it got to be two days away from the date I picked, the forecast settled in on upper 50s and occasional sun. When the date finally arrived, the high temperature in the afternoon was 57-degrees, and it was mostly cloudy with the sun peeking through at times. So, the forecast that was most accurate, not surprisingly, was the one a couple days in advance.
 
Despite all the fancy technology, it seems meteorologists have a good idea what will happen within a few days, but anything longer than that — especially 15 days! — is no different than closing your eyes and putting some chips on a random number at the roulette table at Foxwoods.

My phone app should show the forecast for only the next three days, and then for any days farther into the future, there should be a simple message: “How do I know? Call Scranton and ask Charlie Bagley’s brother-in-law.” 

Instead of a ridiculous 15-day forecast, the weather app should work on developing a way to do my laundry. I’m not concerned what the weather will be in 15 days, but I am concerned that I have no clean socks today.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Grace Is Offered to U2

I enjoy the music of the rock group U2. The group’s flamboyant lead singer is a guy named Bono, who doesn’t hide the fact that he is a Christian. Some years ago, Bono was interviewed by a secular writer, Michka Assayas. When Mr. Assayas mocked religious faith, Bono didn’t get angry or defensive. Instead he began to explain the Good News: “It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people. But the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.”
When asked to explain that statement, Bono said, “At the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that…. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of [sinful] stuff. 

“I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge,” Bono continued. “It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity…. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven.” 

To his credit, Mr Assayas included Bono’s explanation of the basic Christian message in his publication. Even more interesting was his reaction to Bono’s words: “The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that…. That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view.” 

God’s grace is so wonderful that it is indeed close to lunacy. Except that it is true. 
The interviewer had never even heard of the concept of grace, or of the Gospel message about the forgiveness of sin through the death and Resurrection of Jesus. The idea that we can be freely forgiven, no matter how terrible our sins, seems to be lunacy when people first hear about it. It doesn’t fit in with our ingrained belief about karmic justice: if you do the crime you gotta do the time, or what goes around comes around.

For many people, like Mr. Assayas, who have never heard the Gospel message, the answer to the problem of karmic justice oftentimes simply is to deny that sin is real. Denying that sin exists may sidestep the problem of karmic justice, and it may give people some peace and comfort—at least until the swirl of societal chaos wreaks havoc on their lives. But the plain reality, for those willing to open their eyes and look around, is that sin is all too real.

Although the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23), the solution to the problem is not to pretend that sin doesn’t exist. The solution is found at the foot of the Cross. The solution, as Bono mentioned, is Grace. God’s love interrupts the consequences of our actions.

If more people who believe in Christ—not just famous rock stars, but also everyday goobers like us—spoke out about the wonderful Grace of God, then maybe those around us, our fellow unfamous goober friends and relatives, would hear for the first time how much God truly loves them. So much so, He does something that borders on lunacy: He forgives our sins even though we don’t deserve it. All we have to do is sincerely repent and ask for forgiveness. It is truly the “Good News.” 

There’s a Foggy Notion Under His Hat 

A local company recently sent out a mass emailing to all its customers, which said, “We rely on referrals for much of our business. If you enjoyed your experience with us, please tell your friends and post positive comments on social media.” 


They did not bother to say the obvious: “And if you did NOT enjoy your experience with us, please keep it under your hat.” This raises two important questions. First, who even says “Keep it under your hat” anymore? I mean, there are a lot of ways to request that someone not say anything, most commonly: “Hey, don’t say anything.” There also are these expressions: “Keep quiet,” “That’s a secret,” “Just between you and me,” and “Don’t tell a soul.” 
I don’t know if anyone under age 50 has ever heard the term, “Keep it under your hat.” It was pretty common a long time ago, but I doubt a young person today would have the foggiest notion what that expression means. (And I doubt a young person today would have the foggiest notion what the term “foggiest notion” means.) 

Anyway, the second important question raised by that company’s mass email is this: why are people so reluctant to say good things, but so quick to proclaim from the house tops negative comments? (And I doubt a young person today has ever heard the expression, “Proclaim from the house tops.”) 

If you spend a lot of time on social media, first I’d like to remind you that your eternal soul is in danger. Next, I’d like you to think back to the last time you saw something positive on Facebook or Twitter. To save you time, I looked it up. The last time someone said something nice on social media occurred on December 9th, 2015, when Mrs. Caroline Wasilewski of Dubuque, Iowa, sent out this tweet: “Maybe we need an outsider in the White House like that nice Trump fellow.” 
Moments later Mrs. Wasilewski was dragged from her home by an irate mob. Her remains were never found. Ever since that date, every single tweet ever posted throughout the world — now numbering well over 9 trillion — has been angry, insulting, negative, threatening, and for the most part, devoid of any factual information. (This includes the 2.5 trillion tweets sent by that nice Trump fellow, at least before his account was suspended. Twitter has a strict policy: if a user sends 2 trillion vitriolic tweets, he receives a stern warning. If he sends another half-billion, the account is shut down.) 

So, getting back to our original question, who even says “Keep it under your hat” anymore? Oh wait, that was the original question, but it was just rhetorical, meant to fill some space since I don’t really have a full column’s worth of ideas today. (And I doubt a young person today would have the foggiest notion what the word “rhetorical” means.) 

The important question is: why are people so quick to say negative things about others? Well, the answer is simple. People are jerks. I mean that in a nice way, of course, because I’m the only person I know who always says positive things about others — unless they’re jerks. 
I’m not sure the local company’s mass email campaign will be effective. The folks who did enjoy their experience won’t bother to tell anyone else. And the folks who did not enjoy their experience will be reminded by the email, and then post nasty comments on social media. 

Personally, I prefer to keep my negative thoughts under my hat. Either that, or publish them in a newspaper column. (And I doubt a young person today has the foggiest notion what a “newspaper” is.)

Friday, April 9, 2021

God Is Not an Impartial Judge

 Sometimes guilty people do not have to pay the penalty for their crimes. Even though they did it and they know they did it, often there is not enough clear evidence to obtain a conviction in a court of law. Other times the evidence is clear, but it was obtained improperly and thus not permitted during the trial. And once in a while the jury decides to make a political or social statement and declares the defendant not guilty despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. (O.J. Simpson comes to mind, along with the evil men who murdered Emmett Till. If you’re not familiar with either of these miscarriages of justice, look them up online.) 


In cases where a guilty person essentially “gets away with it,” his or her heart has nothing to do with the decision. This is because in a court of law, the goal is to make decisions impartially, based on the facts of the case rather than the emotions and feelings of the people involved. And in a secular court setting, this is a good thing. It’s not a perfect system, obviously, but it’s the best that mankind has developed. 
However, the situation is quite different in God’s courtroom. In His heavenly Halls of Justice, the evidence is overwhelming: we did it; we committed the crime; we are sinful. Romans 6:23 could not be any clearer: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All the evidence against us cannot be thrown out of court since it was obtained properly. In fact, God was an eyewitness to every sinful thought, word, and deed. So, we deserve to be found guilty and sentenced to the harshest penalty. 

Imagine a man is charged with a crime and goes on trial in a secular court. But when he’s brought into the courtroom, it turns out the judge is his father, and the prosecuting attorney is his brother. Obviously this cannot be allowed to happen. The judge and prosecutor would have to recuse themselves from the case, and the trial would be handled by impartial people. 

But something like this does happen in God’s court. We’re charged with a crime, the crime of committing sins, and we must appear before the judge. When we get there, it turns out the judge is our Heavenly Father, who created us and loves us. And the prosecuting attorney is our brother, Jesus, who promptly ignores the role of prosecutor and spends all His time being our defense attorney. 
In God’s court, our hearts are more important than the cold hard facts of the case. If we are truly sorry for our sins and sincerely ask for forgiveness, all that damning evidence is set aside. God pounds the gavel and declares, “I find the defendant not guilty. Case dismissed.”

Secular law is kind of like a contract: we agree to obey the law, and in return society agrees not to throw us in jail. It is quite impersonal. God’s law is a covenant: He wants us to enter into a loving relationship with Him. It is VERY personal. This is why the heart is more important than legal evidence in God’s court.

Normally when we hear about an obviously guilty person being declared innocent in a courtroom, we become indignant. “That’s not fair!” we exclaim. “The fix is in!” 

God’s court doesn’t even pretend to be fair. It is blatantly unfair. People who are obviously guilty are routinely set free. The fix most definitely is in. That’s the way it is with love. Those bloody wounds on Jesus’ hands, feet, and side are the “fix.” 
Instead of becoming indignant, we should thank God that His court is not fair. Otherwise, we’d ALL be found guilty. We should repent and receive God’s forgiveness. We should enter into a relationship with Him and revel in His love.

Why Do They Call It ‘Dope’?

 It seems inevitable that recreational marijuana will be legalized in Connecticut soon. It’s already legal in Massachusetts and New Jersey, and recently Governor Coumo in New York signed a bill to start the legalization process. Nutmeg state officials are getting concerned that neighboring states have this new source of tax revenue (not to mention this new source of social dysfunction), and we don’t want to miss out. 


There are some strong arguments in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana. Oh, by the way, I’m not a big fan of the word “recreational” here. I know it’s used to differentiate between medical marijuana, but calling it recreational marijuana makes it seem like an organized sporting event, such as playing in a Park & Rec softball game at the community fields, when in reality it means getting stoned because you enjoy getting stoned.
The arguments in favor are this: first, people are going to find ways to smoke pot anyway, so it might as well be legalized and regulated. The state will reap tax dollars while the profits will go to business people and investors rather than violent drug cartels. Also, you can make a strong case that the so-called “War on Drugs” has failed miserably. Drinking alcohol is not prohibited, so why should a different intoxicant be outlawed?
 
I found some interesting information at the website of an organization called the Last Prisoner Project. For example: “There are currently over 40,000 nonviolent criminals sitting in prison for cannabis offenses. This costs taxpayers billions of dollars per year and has done immeasurable damage to the families of the incarcerated.”

I’m enough of a Libertarian to say, hey, it’s not the government’s job to tell people what they can and cannot do in the privacy of their own homes.
 
However, on the other hand, there are some good arguments against legalizing recreational marijuana. First, there’s no doubt that pot is a gateway drug that can lead to the use of harder and more deadly substances. The fact is, smoking pot greatly increases the chances that a person someday will try a much more dangerous drug.
 
Another thing about marijuana smoke is that it’s more harmful to lungs than cigarette smoke. Once it’s legalized, expect a spike in lung cancer and other serious health problems. Also, once pot is legalized, there surely will be an increase in DUI incidents, because another irrefutable fact is this: once legalized, many people who have never smoked pot — especially young people — will give it a try. After all, they’ll reason, the politicians have said it’s OK.

In my mind, the strongest argument against legalizing marijuana is simple: they don’t call it “dope” for nothing. Pot makes a person dopey. There’s a noticeable increase in foggy thinking, and a major decrease in ambition, initiative, and drive. The last I checked, it doesn’t seem our society currently has a shortage of people who are unmotivated and lazy. Do we really want a whole new flock of folks who enjoy frying their brain cells? Because that’s exactly what happens with regular pot usage.
And for that particular claim, I didn’t need to research medical studies. All I had to do was think back and remember (hazily) what my life was like during college. I was as dopey as they come. And even though I finally quit all intoxicants by age 28 (except for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups), it took a long time to recover, both emotionally and financially, from those “lost years.”

So, legalization seems inevitable at this point. A lot of people are thrilled, while others are angry. Personally, I’m just sad. It’s too bad so many people don’t realize you can be high on life without being a dope.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Jesus Has a Sense of Humor

A few weeks ago, one of my Merry Catholic essays discussed the time Jesus rebuked two of His disciples. James and John wanted to call down fire from Heaven on some Samaritans, and Jesus was not pleased. I suggested that Jesus may have been even more angry than Luke described in his gospel. When I posted that essay on my blog (merrycatholic.com), I included a meme I found online that showed an image of Jesus from an old movie. In the still shot, Jesus appears to be shouting at someone, and there’s a fairly intense expression on His face. The caption reads: “You just wait till I tell my Dad about this!”

Obviously, that meme was supposed to be humorous. As you may have detected, at least once or twice a year, I attempt a little humor. As you also may have detected, the operative word here is “attempt.”

When I saw that “Wait till I tell my Dad” meme, my first thought was, “Oh, that’s funny. It’s perfect for this essay.” My second thought was, “And I bet someone will be offended by it.”

Sometimes there is a fine line between innocent fun and sacrilege. For example, when you do a search on the Google Image site for “Jesus angry meme,” besides the “Wait till I tell my Dad” image, there are many others that are plainly gross and blasphemous.
 
The key, in my mind, is to ask a variation of a popular expression. When I’m trying to decide if something has crossed the line from playfully funny to sarcastically offensive, I ask, “What would Jesus say?”
 
With many of the nasty images online, I know Jesus would shake his head sadly and say, “Wow, some people are just consumed with hate.” With those images, it’s clear the person who created it either hates Jesus, hates Jesus’ followers, or simply gets a kick out of shocking people. There’s no real attempt at humor, no real desire to share a pleasant laugh with another person.

When Jesus saw the “Wait till I tell my Dad” image, I’m pretty sure He smiled, rolled His eyes a bit, and said, “Yeah, that’s kind of cute. I like the way it uses a comment a child might say and applies it to me and my Father in Heaven.” When I decided to post that meme on my blog, my only goal was to share a laugh with others, along with sharing my love and devotion for the Lord.
 
I think when the topic is Jesus, a lot of people are afraid to laugh. That’s understandable. All the popular movies about the life of Christ usually depict the Lord solemnly intoning “thee and thou” verses from the King James Bible. There might be a couple of brief smiles during the movie, but nothing resembling a laugh. And in parochial school decades ago, if you even suggested to the nuns that Jesus either cracked jokes or laughed at someone else’s jokes, you went home that day with throbbing knuckles.

But think about it: Jesus is fully God and fully man; that’s a core doctrine of our faith. When He walked the earth, He was like us in every way except sin. If He was a well-adjusted human being, then He certainly had a sense of humor. After all, God created us with a sense of humor for two important reasons, to help us joyfully bond with other people and as a mechanism to relieve stress.

Now, obviously, Jesus’ mission on earth was quite serious. I mean, paying the price for the sins of all mankind—and in a rather gruesome manner—is a pretty heavy task. However, there surely were plenty of joyful times during Jesus’ three years of ministry when He was relaxing with His disciples or greeting a bunch of boisterous children. I am convinced that plenty of laughter was present.
Whenever I attempt a little humor in these essays—with or without success—my goal is to share a joyful laugh with the readers. If it’s not very humorous, well, that’s no surprise. (If it is offensive, though, please let me know.) The thing to keep in mind is that Jesus has a sense of humor. And the more we laugh and enjoy the love and forgiveness of God, the more others will be attracted to the faith.
 
So, in conclusion, a priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar … and the bartender says, “What is this, a joke?”

Learning Lessons from the Ol’ Man

Recently I was explaining something to a co-worker, and when we were done, he said, “Thanks. You would’ve made a good teacher.”

It’s funny he said that, because when I was in high school, I wanted to become a teacher. The idea of going into education was partly because I liked explaining things to people, and partly because my dad was a teacher.
 
One day, when I was a junior in high school and starting to think about college, my dad pulled me aside and quietly said, “Son, you can be anything you want to be when you grow up, a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer. But keep this in mind: if you decide to become a teacher, I will wait until you’re sound asleep, tip-toe into your bedroom, and then hit you repeatedly in the head with a ball-peen hammer.” Then he gave me a Jack Nicholsonesque smile, which clearly said, “And I ain’t kidding.”

Well, I may be embellishing some of the details of that long ago conversation, but the general idea was clear. He was advising me in no uncertain terms to avoid the education profession.
 
Unfortunately, my dad experienced a perfect storm of bad luck in his teaching career. He began teaching in a city school in the late 1950s. But by the early ‘70s, the situation had changed drastically because most of the middle class families had moved to the suburbs. For the final decade of his career, my dad was never sure if his main job was to be a teacher, a social worker, a substance abuse counselor, a corrections officer, a professional wrestler, or a M*A*S*H unit medic. It all came to a head one day when one of his fellow teachers, who was also a good friend, was shot and killed by a student.

On top of all this, my dad taught during a time when seasoned school teachers got paid slightly less than the night shift manager at McDonald’s, which was better, I suppose, than new teachers, who made slightly less than the 17-year-old kid working the drive-thru window. For every hour he worked in the classroom, my dad worked two hours at various part-time jobs on nights and weekends, scrambling to support his wife and five kids.
I’ll never forget the day I got my first real job after graduating from college. I was a 22-year-old knucklehead who didn’t know his sphincter from a saxaphone, but I was being hired as a production supervisor in a local manufacturing facility. Everyone in my family congratulated me, but my dad walked away sadly when he realized my starting salary was more than what he was making after a quarter-century of teaching, plus earning a couple of advanced degrees.
 
Anyway, when I mentioned to my co-worker that I had thought about becoming a teacher many, many years ago, he said, “Oh, if you had done that, you could be retired now with a guaranteed lifetime pension.”

Yeah, maybe. But I suspect if I had gone into teaching, they would’ve asked me to leave long before I qualified for a pension, since administrators are not too fond of teachers who blurt out sarcastic comments at annoying students. And let’s face it, 90-percent of all school-age human beings are annoying. I know I certainly was.

When I began this essay, I didn’t intend it to be an homage to the ol’ man. But as I recall how much my dad busted his butt to provide for his family, my respect for him grows. I wish he were still alive so I could tell him. And by the way, I was just kidding earlier. My dad didn’t even own a ball-peen hammer. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

What If the Curious Story Really Is True? 

Finally, Easter Sunday is just about here. And we celebrate with eggs, the symbol of new life. And with bunnies, the symbol of fertility. And with lilies and other flowers, the symbol of springtime renewal. And with 30 pounds of chocolate per person and fancy new clothes (which won’t fit anymore after wolfing down the 30 pounds of chocolate), the symbols of a consumer society obsessed with spending money we don’t even have. 
Oh yes, and some folks continue to include in their Easter celebration the curious story about the God-man who died but then came back to life three days later. This also is a symbol of new life and springtime renewal. 

It’s actually a rather grizzly story, if you bother to read some of the details. But I guess those ancient story-tellers were obsessed with gore and violence, not sophisticated and civilized like our modern day story-tellers, such as Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone. 

So, this curious fable about the God-man coming back to life fits in nicely with our seasonal theme: springtime renewal. The dark, cold, and dreary season of Winter finally gives way to the sunlight and colors and new life of Spring. 

But what if that curious story were actually true? Oh, come on now. We don’t take those things literally anymore. This is the 21st century, for crying out loud. We’re a little too clever and sophisticated and scientific to fall for that kind of stuff. 

But what if it’s really true? 

What if there really is a personal God who created the universe? What if He really designed and created us with a specific purpose in mind? Wow, that would actually give some long-term meaning to our lives, rather than the short-term, superficial meaning we try to create for ourselves with our consumer spending and our frantic scratching and clawing to achieve some recognition in the world. 
And what if this personal God loved us so much that He grieved over the fact that we ignored Him and decided to worship ourselves instead? What if He loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to bridge that huge gulf between us, which sin had created? And what if that Son offered His own life as a sacrifice to pay the price for our sins? And most of all, what if He actually rose from the dead three days later, conquering death once and for all? 

Sounds kind of fantastic, doesn’t it? But what if it really were true? That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? That would mean that death is not the final chapter of our lives. That would mean the cruelest irony of life—the fact that everything we ever achieve in this world is destined to be swallowed up by death and forgotten—is no longer true. 

Well, I’ve got news for you. IT IS TRUE! The God who created us loves us way too much to let death have the final victory. That curious story about the God-man coming back to life is not an ancient fable, it is a fact. It is the central event in the whole history of humanity. 

When we finally realize what Jesus did for our sake, often our first reaction is to ask what we should do to repay Him for such a great sacrifice. Many religious organizations have created vast and elaborate systems for doing good deeds in an attempt to repay Him for what He did for us. 

But how can you possibly repay such a sacrifice? At the end of the award-winning movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” it’s 50 years after World War II and Ryan is at the Normandy cemetery. He’s talking to the gravestones of the men who a half-century earlier gave their lives so that he could live. He says, “I lived my life the best I could. I hope in your eyes I’ve earned what you’ve done for me.” 

Then he turns to his wife and pleads, “Tell me I’ve led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” But the answer is obvious: it doesn’t matter whether he’s led the most noble and productive life of any person on earth, it’s impossible to repay such a debt. 
We can’t repay Jesus for what He did. What He did was His precious gift to us. All we can do is accept the gift Jesus gave us with profound gratitude and humility. If we do this, the good deeds will come, not because we HAVE to do them, but because we WANT to do them.

That curious Easter story is not just one little facet of a springtime holiday. It is the most important event ever. It is our path to eternal life. He is risen! Hallelujah! 

Crush Your Goals!

The other day I drove by a local University, and there was a large sign on a prominent building that said “CRUSH YOUR CAREER GOALS.”

Now, why would the school encourage students to destroy their career goals? Besides, I always thought the most effective way to crush your career goals was to take the SAT test in high school while hung over. After all, why go through all the stress of trying to get into Harvard, when Finstermacher Junior College has yet to reject a single applicant in its storied 2-1/2 year history? (I hear they’re about to break ground for their first ever academic building, which will be a nice step up compared to renting space at the local VFW hall on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Plus, they’ll be able to brag that they’re the only institution in America conducting college classes in a shiny new Quonset Hut.)
Anyway, I was really puzzled by the big sign I saw. Then a young coworker told me that nowadays the word “crush” is a good thing. 

A good thing? Really? Well, I suppose crushed gravel is a good thing to drive your car on, rather than the pre-crushed boulders, which are often the size of office furniture. My Chevy Equinox definitely would have some issues trying to navigate over rocks that large.

Also, I haven’t had Orange Crush soda pop in years, but I vaguely remember that it tasted pretty good, even though it was kind of like watered down Kool Aid with bubbles.

If you have a crush on someone, that’s a positive thing. Or maybe not, if the crushee has absolutely no interest in the crusher. Then it might be more like a stalker situation, which is definitely a bad thing. Speaking of crushes, I had a crush on a pretty girl during my sophomore year in high school, and now, almost a half-century later, my feelings for her are still as strong as ever. (Good thing she agreed to marry me some years later, or my crush at this point would be kind of creepy.)
I looked on Dictionary.com, and it very clearly says the definition of the word crush is: “To press or squeeze with a force that destroys or deforms. To squeeze or pound into small fragments or particles, as ore, stone, etc. To become crushed.”

Hmm, I don’t see anything in that definition that seems like a good thing, especially regarding a person’s career goals. Then my coworker explained to me, “No, you don’t understand, Bill. Crush is now a slang word for winning. Kids will say something like, ‘Oh man, he crushed it!’ meaning he succeeded, such as hitting a home run or getting an A on an exam.”

Well, that’s interesting. The last time I heard someone say, “He crushed it,” he was referring to another guy’s vertebrae after a fall.

I went back online and found this explanation: “‘Crushing it’ is a common expression used when someone is doing their job particularly well, or exceeding all of their goals. Unlike the literal definition of the word, ‘crushing it’ has an extremely positive connotation.” 
The sign on the University building, in my view, ought to say, “Achieve your career goals.” But obviously the school is not trying to convince me to enroll, as I already “crushed” my academic career four decades ago. (I am using the traditional definition of the word, by the way. If good grades were like big boulders, my test scores were a load of gravel.)

Hopefully the school will attract a lot of smart kids who want to crush their career goals. In the meantime, I’ll concentrate on “crushing” my vertebrae — by which I mean NOT crushing them. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

A Great Time to Be Catholic

 As Catholics, we are so lucky to be living right now. Just think about everything that’s going on with our Church these days: people are leaving the faith in droves; there are endless Church scandals; we have a severe priest shortage; many parishes are on the verge of financial collapse; and the Catholic Church is now mocked and scorned by the elites who shape our American culture. Yes, this is a great time to be Catholic!


Hey, I heard what you just said. I am not in fact losing my mind. Let me explain:

Back in the so-called “good ol’ days,” for example, during the 1950s, the Catholic Church in America was well-respected. The Church was an influential part of society. The vast majority of Catholics went to Mass each Sunday, and millions of kids attended Catholic schools. The seminaries were overflowing, and every parish had at least two or three priests living in the rectory.
So, the Church back in those days was big and powerful and, well, kind of comfortable. Being Catholic was fairly easy. It was mainstream and respectable.

Nowadays, being Catholic is counter-cultural. If you want to be Catholic today, you have to make a conscious decision to defy the popular sentiments of our society. You know there’s a good chance you’ll be labeled as a superstitious simpleton, at best, or as a hateful bigot, at worst.

As a self-professing Catholic, you’ll have to defend the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death. You’ll have to oppose the death penalty, the mindless stockpiling of weapons of war, and the inhumane treatment of immigrants, whether they have legal status or not. You’ll have to bow out of the consumerist rat race and NOT base a person’s worth on how much money they have. You’ll have to believe that humility and modesty and sacrifice are good character traits, rather than arrogance and self-promotion and greed. As a result, you are sure to be attacked by both sides of the political spectrum and laughed at by the folks in the news media and entertainment industry.
To put it in modern terms, the Church is no longer a “player” in our culture. And you know what? Throughout history, these have been the exact circumstances in which the Church thrives. During times when the Church was wealthy and influential, it became fat and lazy and ineffective. It focused so much on amassing assets and prestige, it stopped preaching the Gospel and saving souls. On the other hand, during times when the Church was driven underground and labeled by authorities as a subversive organization, it became a powerful witness to the Gospel message — often with the blood of many martyrs being spilled.

So, we are living in the perfect moment in history to be Catholic. We don’t have to waste time currying favor and sucking up to the powerful people in our culture, since they won’t give us the time of day, anyway. Instead, we can focus on preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and bringing comfort to a hurting world.

Another thing to consider are war stories in Heaven. Just imagine the poor fellows who lived during fat, dumb, and happy Catholic times, such as the 1950s in the United States. What kind of war stories are they able to share with the other saints in Heaven? Maybe something like, “Well, it was pretty rough being Catholic in my day. We had to eat fish sticks every Friday.” After a long awkward pause, St. Maximilian Kolbe, who was listening in on the conversation, quietly says, “Um, it was a little different in my country.”
Think of all the war stories Catholics of the present generation will be able to share in Heaven. If we make sure we’re not seduced by the secular zeitgeist, but instead stand strong for the Gospel, we surely will find ourselves in a spiritual battle. It may get rather rough, but at least when the time comes, our reminiscing won’t be limited to fish sticks.

The main reason this is a great time to be Catholic is because we have the Truth on our side. That’s Truth with a capital “T,” in the person of Jesus Christ. So, even if it seems like the Church is being squashed by the dominant culture, fear not. We are on the verge of something great. Now, be of good cheer and go forth and accumulate some war stories! 

Our Understanding of Age

Have you ever noticed our understanding of age changes drastically as we age? (Whoa, I used the same word twice in one sentence, first as a noun and then as a verb. My 6th grade English teacher would be so proud — and surprised.)

Regarding our understanding of age, I clearly remember the amazing summer when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. I was 12 years old at the time, and when I heard on TV that Armstrong was 38 years old, I thought, “Wow, why did they send a guy up there who is so OLD?”

The way I perceived age back then was based on two things: sports and my dad. Just a couple of summers earlier, Carl Yastrzemski led the Red Sox to the pennant, and in the process won the Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. During that season, a sportswriter noted that Yaz was at the perfect age to excel: 28. He was still in his prime physically, and after playing for six years he had enough major league at-bats to anticipate what the pitchers were going to throw.
 
Additionally, I remember hearing an announcer talk about a journeyman pitcher. He said, “Well, he is 35 years old now and he’s lost some zip off his fastball. As this season progresses, we’ll see if he’s got anything left in the tank.”

It couldn’t have been any clearer to my 12-year-old brain: 28 was the prime age, and 35 was over the hill. As proof, all I had to do was look at my father. He was 37 years old that summer, which meant he was two years past “over the hill.” He obviously had NOTHING left in the tank. My dad still played in the town Park and Rec softball league, but unlike previous years, when he stretched a single into a double, he didn’t even slide into second base anymore. What a geezer. Also, some gray hairs were starting to show just above his ears, a sure sign — in my mind — that he already had one foot in the grave.

Everyone used to say the scientists and engineers at NASA were the smartest people in the world. But if they were so smart, why did they decide to send a senior citizen to the moon, a guy who was even older than my over-the-hill dad? If you’re trying to get to the moon and back, don’t you need something left in the tank?
Now, more than 50 years later, my understanding of age is quite different. If NASA announces that they’re planning to send people to the moon again, and the captain of the mission is 38 years old, my first thought will be, “Wow, why are they sending a guy up there who is so YOUNG?”

After all, a moon mission doesn’t require an astronaut to slide into second base. What he really needs is a lot of major league at bats, that is, experience. NASA could send a young whippersnapper, say, someone around age 57. Or they could send someone who is the perfect age: my age. By the way, Paul McCartney once wrote a song about my current age. (No, not “Helter Skelter”!)
Anyway, I guess a person’s perception of age works on a sliding scale (as opposed to a sliding into second base scale). The definition of “old” is anyone 10 years older than me, and the definition of “young” is anyone 10 years younger.

If NASA is looking for a 64-year-old astronaut, I’ve still got something left in the tank. Just as long as they get me home before sunset. I don’t like driving in the dark anymore.  

Friday, March 12, 2021

Human Desires Point to the Divine Creator

We human beings have a lot of desires and urges. Our lungs crave oxygen, and thankfully we are surrounded by air. We get thirsty, and there is water. We get hungry, and there is food. We get tired, and when we lie down and close our eyes there is sleep. (Or in my case, put my head down on my keyboard at work right after lunch, and zonk out for a while.)
Either our environment was created just for us, or else we were created just for our environment.
 
Another powerful urge we have is the desire to exist. Human beings want to live, and not just live, but live forever. Now, of course, most people do not declare, “I want to be a billion years old!” with the last 99.999% of that time being a frail bag of bones in a nursing home. However, if we are honest, the idea that our individual personalities and memories will cease to exist at the moment we die strikes most folks as awful. We instinctively understand there is something mysterious at the core of our being, often called our soul or spirit. We also instinctively cringe at the idea that our souls are just temporary and fleeting. The soul is too unique and too wonderful merely to be here today and gone tomorrow.
 
So, if our experience is that there are solutions to our deepest longings — thirst/water, hunger/food, tiredness/sleep — then what are the odds that another deep longing, the desire always to exist, does NOT have a solution? What are the chances it’s a completely unrealistic, unfulfillable urge?

If it’s true this natural world is all that exists, and the minute we die our minds and hearts and souls are gone forever, then why would our burning desire be the exact opposite? Why aren’t we “hardwired” to calmly accept annihilation? Why isn’t it built into our DNA to acknowledge that our individual personalities exist for a few brief decades and then disappear forever like a raindrop evaporating off a hot sidewalk?
Instead, our deepest longing is to exist, and to exist forever. And guess what? There is a solution to that deep and powerful human longing. That is exactly what the Christian Gospel is all about.

Oh, certainly there are other aspects to Christianity. For example, repentance and the forgiveness of sins; entering into loving relationships with the God who created us and with other people. But at its most basic level, the Gospel message is about eternal life. Our soul and spirit, our personality and memories, our wisdom and relationships continue on forever in the glorious kingdom of God, known as Heaven.

I know that a lot of people, especially nowadays, have rejected religious faith, including the hope for eternal life. They follow the secular worldview of our modern culture, which says that Christians embrace silly fairy tales. Well, to these folks, I’d like to quote John Lennon: “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us.”

(Hey, how do you like that? I used the Atheist’s Anthem, Lennon’s song “Imagine,” as an evangelization sales pitch.)
Sorry, Johnny, but imagining there’s no Heaven is not easy, even if I try. You see, longing to have eternal life is part of being human. That desire is not simply a weird glitch in the evolutionary process. It’s an urge that was planted in us by our Creator. He did it so we’d long to be with Him for all eternity.

All of our primary urges and desires have solutions. The longing to live forever is no different than our craving for air, water, food, or sleep. It just requires an open mind, and a little faith, hope, and love.