Saturday, July 24, 2021

Does the Eucharist Inspire Reverent Awe?

A few weeks ago, the spiritual essay I receive in my email inbox each morning asked this question: “While at Mass, do you gaze with reverent awe when the priest holds up the consecrated host?”

Immediately, I answered somewhat defensively, “Of course I do!” (There was no one present in the room at the time. But I still shouted out my answer just in case the sender of the email had some doubts about my faith.)
A bit later, when I thought about it a little more, I qualified my answer to, “Well, maybe not at EVERY Mass, but most of the time.” Then, when I finally stopped being so defensive, I honestly admitted, “OK, I’m sure I gazed at the Eucharist with reverent awe quite recently. Probably at Easter, or maybe sometime last Fall.”

That question really struck a nerve with me. Over the years I’ve written often about the Eucharist, including a short book titled, “Is the Real Presence Really Real?”

I’ve also given many talks on the subject for various parishes and religious groups in the area. The message is not very complicated: based on Scripture and especially the words of Jesus Himself, the Church has taught from the very beginning that the bread and wine of Communion are miraculously transformed into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ. It’s not a nice ritual, nor a mere symbol. It is the flesh and blood of Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states this, and declares that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.

I wrote about this subject a couple of years ago when a bombshell survey discovered that seven out of 10 Catholics in the U.S. do not believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. Wow, talk about a catechetical failure! (Catechetical is just a fancy word that means “teaching.” I’m not trying to show off my capacious and occasionally ostentatious vocabulary. I ain’t that smart.)
Anyway, the U.S. bishops are planning to draft a teaching document in the coming months about the Eucharist. Unfortunately, like everything else in our country these days, this has become politicized. Some of the bishops and most of the media are claiming this document on the Eucharist is just a way for conservative bishops to embarrass President Biden, by declaring that he cannot receive the Eucharist because of his public and persistent support for unrestricted abortion, which directly opposes historic Church teaching.

The subject of politicians who claim to be devout Catholics while supporting anti-Catholic policies certainly is important. The bishops have a tricky and tough responsibility with this issue. However, that’s not the point here. A clear and firm teaching document about the Eucharist is desperately needed, not just for politicians, but for the tens of millions of lay Catholics in the 70% group who answered the survey by saying the Eucharist is just a symbol.

I freely admit, The Church’s teaching about the Eucharist is shocking. If the body and blood of Jesus are really, supernaturally present, then it is the greatest miracle since the Resurrection. Our Evangelical Protestant friends are always talking about having a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Well, consuming the real body and blood of Jesus at Mass puts us closer to Him than anything on earth. It is truly the source and summit of the Christian life.

But on the other hand, if the Church is mistaken about the Real Presence, and if it was originally meant to be just a symbol, then Catholics are committing the worst sin of all: idolatry.

Idolatry is defined as worshipping anything other than God. Those of us Catholics in the 30% group do indeed worship the Eucharist because we believe it is Jesus in the flesh. If we’re wrong, if it’s just some bread and wine, then we’re no different than those folks in the Bible who worshipped the golden calf.
There is no doubt a teaching document on the Eucharist from the bishops is needed. The 70% of American Catholics who don’t believe this core Church doctrine need it. And the people in the 30% group who do believe could use a good refresher course, especially those of us who have a hard time remembering the last time we gazed with reverent awe when the priest held up the consecrated host.

Friday, July 16, 2021

What Is Your Life Story?

Do you worry about the future? Do you wake up in the middle of the night and ask yourself questions such as: What if I lose my job and have financial problems? What if I develop a chronic illness? What if a loved one dies suddenly? What if the loved one who dies suddenly is ME?!

Wow, the future can be very scary. That’s because the future is the great unknown, and we instinctively are fearful and anxious about the unknown. However, as Christians, we’ve been given assurance that “all things work for good for those who love the Lord” (Romans 8:28). We have a divine promise that the future will be filled with joy and glory.

Now, of course, there might be temporary heartache and pain before we experience God’s eternal joy and glory. But the story of our lives WILL have a happy ending.

Is your personal story like an epic novel? How about an action movie? Maybe a Broadway musical? Or possibly a made-for-TV movie that ends up on the Hallmark Channel every December?
It doesn’t matter if your story is a 3-volume saga, like The Lord of the Rings, or just a brief tale on a 30-minute sitcom. What is important is to understand that your story is real. God created each and every one of us to be the lead character in an exciting drama.
I bet you didn’t know that you are the star of an important production. Yes, I agree it’s very unlikely that any of our personal stories will win the Academy Award or a Pulitzer Prize. For most of us, our individual story will be viewed only by our close family and friends, rather than millions of moviegoers. But that’s OK. Each of our stories also is being watched with rapt attention by God Almighty.

Try this exercise: instead of looking at your life from the ground level, look at it from 30,000 feet up in the air. Let me explain. The ground level view of life focuses on current activities: eat, sleep, go to work, get stuck in traffic, watch some TV, take a shower, pay the bills, and then wake up tomorrow and do it all over again.

The 30,000 foot view looks at the entire journey of your life. Where and when were you born? Where did you grow up? What did you do in school? Who did you marry? Where did you live? How many kids did you have? What do you do for work? Who are your friends? Where do you go to church?
Every event of your life has been part of God’s plan. Every step of your journey weaves a fascinating tale, which is leading to a grand finale. 
In God’s epic story of your life, it’s not quite like the movies, with high-speed car chases and explosions in the final scenes. Instead, it’s usually more subdued, but equally as exciting. Remember that Jesus Himself made it clear that your divine mission in life is to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. So, the grand finale of your life story focuses on love.

Who is the person in your life who needs a little love? Is it a grandchild who needs some of your wisdom? Is it a co-worker or neighbor who needs a sympathetic friend? Is it a despondent fellow at the local soup kitchen who needs a smiling volunteer to let him know he’s not forgotten?

Please don’t make the common mistake of thinking that all the exciting and important parts of life occur when people are young and healthy and in their prime. Many people assume their lives are going to wind down with age and illness, and finally end with an anonymous whimper. Nope, that’s not how God writes His stories. All of us can have a big impact, even at the end of our earthly journey.
We just have to remember that God promised glory and joy to all those who trust in Him. Also, even though car chases and explosions are exciting ways to conclude an action movie, in God’s story of our life, the most exciting thing we can do is enter into loving relationships with other people.

So, please don’t worry about the unknown future. You are the star of a thrilling adventure story that’s heading into the climactic third act. Who knows, maybe your wonderful life story will win the Academy Award after all.

Americans Too Confident of Survival Skills

A recent survey found that the average American believes he or she can survive for 16 days in the wilderness. The report I read did not indicate the gender breakdown of the respondents, but I think it’s safe to say we can revise the previous sentence to say the average American believes HE can survive for 16 days in the wilderness. Women are way too smart to make that crazy claim.

Despite half of the survey participants claiming they could survive in the wilderness, additional questions discovered that only 14% could distinguish between edible and poisonous plants. For example, only one in three people were able to correctly identify poison ivy. This tells us that a sizable percentage of these people, their stomachs growling with hunger, very likely would conclude poison ivy leaves are probably a type of lettuce. As they begin to chew, their odds of surviving would drop from slim to less-than-none.
Only 17% of respondents were “very confident” that they could start a fire with a flint. I suspect many of these folks who answered this question in the affirmative thought to themselves, “By ‘flint,’ you mean a Bic lighter, right?”

I wonder if the survey clearly defined the word “wilderness.” Maybe some of the respondents thought “wilderness” meant the WiFi signal is weak, or the microwave doesn’t work.

This survey reminds me of an article I read many years ago, which explained that 85% of all Americans think they are “above average.” Besides being bad at math, we Americans obviously are WAY too confident.
If the “average American” really believes surviving in the wilderness for over two weeks is possible, there are only two likely explanations: either the average American is a former Army Ranger, with years of grueling survival training, or the average American has saturated his brain with so many TV shows and video games that he no longer has any grasp of reality. I’m voting for the out of touch with reality option.

Let’s review a few facts about human survival. First, we can survive for about three hours in a harsh environment without any shelter. (I wonder how many of those survey respondents assumed “wilderness” meant the temperature would be 75 degrees during the day, and 72 degrees at night?)
Next, human beings can survive for three days without clean water, as long as we have shelter from extreme weather. (I wonder how many respondents assumed “wilderness” meant there would be six-packs of Poland Springs bottles behind every tree?)
Finally, we can survive for three weeks without food, if we have clean water and shelter. (I wonder how many respondents assumed “wilderness” meant there would be convenience stores that take VISA cards scattered throughout the forest?)

You know what? Even if “wilderness” meant comfortable temperatures, bottled water, and convenience store snacks, I know I still would not survive for 16 days, and I can explain why in one word: insects. The first time I dozed off and a bug crawled up my nose, I would have a heart attack so major, I’d be dead before I had a chance to squeal like a six-year-old, except with a higher pitch. And I’m sure my last thought, before everything went black, would be this: “I am so glad this bug-induced heart attack is the cause of my death rather than being eaten by wolves.” (I’m really not sure if relief over a lack of wolves is common while having a fatal heart attack, but if I have one, I’ll let you know.)
There are two conclusions we can draw from this survey: 1) Don’t ever get lost in the wilderness; and 2) The average American has way below average common sense.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Father, Forgive Us, We Know Not What We Do

One of the most poignant moments in Jesus’ entire 33 years on earth occurred while He was hanging on the cross. With his body wracked in torturous pain, the Lord looked heavenward and gasped, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Isn’t that amazing? Jesus asked his heavenly Father to forgive the very people who were in the process of murdering Him. Wow. Talk about compassion.
Besides giving us insight about the depth of Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy, this event also gives us an example to follow. You see, human beings have an annoying habit of taking action based on faulty information. People often do things out of anger or fear or ignorance. In other words, they know not what they do.
When people behave in ways that hurt others, most of the time they either are not purposely trying to cause pain, or if they are, they’re convinced it’s justified because the other people caused them pain first. It’s actually very sad the way folks hurt each other because of misunderstandings and misinformation.
Instead of immediately plotting revenge, the person who has been hurt should follow Jesus’ example and forgive them, specifically because the offending persons know not what they do. Granted, this is very difficult. When a person has been hurt by someone else, the instinctive reaction is to lash out and hurt them back. “An eye for an eye” is not just an Old Testament judicial concept; it’s a deep-seated part of human nature.

So, when we’ve been hurt by someone, the most difficult thing in the world is to have the forgiving and merciful mindset of Christ. At that moment, every fiber of our being screams, “Fight back! Hurt them even worse!” Can you imagine if Jesus chose to go in that direction while hanging on the cross? Instead of, “Father, forgive them,” suppose He instead called down fire from Heaven and yelled, “Father, fry them!”
Whoa, that would’ve satisfied His human instinct for vengeance, but it would not have satisfied His spiritual desire to pay the price for the sins of Mankind and make eternal life possible for His faithful followers.

There are other times when we should offer a slightly modified version of Jesus’ famous statement. Whenever we are the ones causing pain to others, we should look heavenward and exclaim, “Father, forgive ME, for I know not what I do!”

I’d venture to say the majority of sins we commit are done out of ignorance. This is not to say we don’t know the difference between right and wrong, and therefore we’re not responsible for our actions. Oh no, we understand right and wrong all too well. However, there are plenty of times when we commit selfish little venial sins, and then afterwards we are completely shocked that we inflicted so much pain on someone else.
Personally, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to apologize for saying or doing something stupid (and I can count pretty high — all the way up to ninety-twelve!). Even if my actions were self-centered, it never occurred to me that I would cause a lot of pain. So, this means it’s accurate to say I did not fully know what I was doing, and therefore it’s appropriate for me to look heavenward and exclaim, “Father, forgive ME, for I know not what I do!”

No wait, I should say that to God right after sincerely saying something very similar to the person I’ve hurt.
Jesus’ astounding statement of forgiveness from the cross is a great example for us. We should say the same thing when people hurt us, and we should say it when we’re the ones doing the hurting.

It’s like that old joke: “What are the two must abundant things in the Universe?” Answer: “Hydrogen and stupidity.”
Actually, the most abundant thing in the Universe is the love of God. Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.

Stop Abusing Exclamation Points!!!

In a dim and dusty church basement, I slowly stand up, clear my throat, and nervously say, “My name is Bill, and I’m an exclamation point-aholic.”

Everyone in the crowded room replies in unison: “HI BILL!!!!”

Seeing the shocked expression on my face, one guy smiles at me and says, “Don’t worry, Bill. We’re kidding. Just a little prank we like to play on the new folks.”
If you’ve been involved with emails, texts, and/or social media in recent years, then you know exclamation point abuse is out of control. There really ought to be a 12-step program to reign in this offensive grammatical, punctuational misconduct. And I’m not kidding!!!!

Oops, there I go again. Sorry. It’s become such a bad habit that I can’t even acknowledge receiving a simple message without typing, “OK, thanks!!”
I’m pretty sure every grammarian in the country would say “OK, thanks” does not require a single exclamation point, let alone two. (But it certainly needs one period, with “period truancy” being another troubling aspect of modern communication.)

In my mind, this sinister addiction to exclamation points has reached the stage where I now consider a simple “OK, thanks” to be far too insincere and perfunctory. What if the other person thinks my expression of thanks is phony and mechanical? What if he interprets my lack of exclamation points as a sign that I’m actually not very thankful, or that my bland punctuationless reply is really dripping with sarcasm?! I simply have to let him know that I’m really, REALLY thankful!! I just HAVE to include some exclamation points!!!

Oh my, do you see how this thing can spiral out of control?
At an online “questions & answers” forum dedicated to grammar, someone asked whether it’s acceptable to use two exclamation points. Here’s the answer: “Never. At least not for grammatical purposes. More than one exclamation mark doesn’t have any meaning. An exclamation doesn’t get more ‘exclamation-y’ by more marks.”

Oh yeah? Well, I happen to think an exclamation gets way more exclamation-y the more marks you use. So there!!

Modern digital communications have turned most people into grammatical illiterates. (Or is that “illiterate grammarians”??? [Oops, I have a question mark abuse issue, too. {And apparently parentheses abuse is another personal pathology.}])

That reminds me of a funny T-shirt I saw a while ago. The top line said, “LET’S EAT GRANDMA.” The second line said, “LET’S EAT, GRANDMA.” And the bottom line said, “PUNCTUATION SAVES LIVES!” (See how a little comma makes things much calm-ah? [Notice how I used a Boston accent on “calmer” to make it rhyme? {Uh oh, again with the out-of-control parentheses!}])

These grammatical mistakes are not to be confused with typos. Typos are errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation as a result of typing too hurriedly. In our hectic, fast-paced world, who has time to proofread anymore? We just type away and then hit “send.”
Instead, I am referring to willful grammatical blunders (also known as “blundergrams” to those of us who pretend that we’ve read the AP Stylebook). The addiction to exclamation points, along with the use of “cuz”, “gonna”, and “thru” are pretty much taken for granite these days. (Yeah, I know I typed “granite.” Just wanna see if yur paying attention.)

The laughter finally dies down in the church basement. As I stand in front of dozens of people, I can feel my face getting red and my throat tightening up. I am determined to beat my exclamation point addiction, and I know I must share my story and be strengthened by the encouragement of the group.
I take a deep breath and say, “I, uh, I don’t know when my addiction began. But irregardless of that…”

Friday, July 2, 2021

Trusting God Is Hard 

In the Gospel reading at Mass this weekend, Jesus sent His twelve disciples out, two-by-two, to preach in the surrounding villages. Scripture explains, “He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money.” 

How strange. Jesus sent them out on an important mission without any supplies at all. If I had been one of the Twelve, I would have complained, “Hey Jesus, how do you expect us to be successful if we go wandering out there without any food or money or important stuff?”

At minimum, I would require: cash, credit cards, snacks, sunglasses, bug spray, bottled water, snacks, road maps, iPhone, flashlights, first aid kit, snacks, raincoat, umbrella, toothbrush, extra clothing, GPS, batteries, laptop computer, and just in case, extra snacks. And of course, if we were going to be away overnight, I would need a lot MORE stuff. 
What was Jesus thinking sending those guys out with nothing but the tunic on their backs? It’s almost as if He was expecting them to trust in God for all their needs. What a weird concept. Trust in God? Who does that nowadays? 

Oh sure, we believe in God…most of the time. And we trust in God to meet our needs…in an abstract, general sort of way. We know that when we’re 95 years old and on our deathbed, we’ll be able to look back on our lives and say, “Yep, God took care of me and helped me through the tough times.” 

Yes, we trust in God, generally speaking, but what about the real world? What about today, tomorrow, and next week? There are real problems to deal with here. The mortgage is due, the job is stressful, the car is making a funny noise, the teenage kids have green hair and half a hardware store piercing their various body parts, and a sharp pain just below the ribcage keeps waking you up in the middle of the night. You know what I mean, real problems. 

Certainly we can’t get all silly and spiritual and pretend like we can trust in God to deal with real here-and-now problems, can we? After all, doesn’t the Bible say that God helps those who help themselves? (Well, actually, the Bible says nothing of the sort. I did a computer word search. It ain’t in there.) 
One of the main themes of Scripture is that God helps those who are helpless and who trust totally in Him. This is a completely foreign concept to modern Americans. We need to be in control and have all the bases covered. Apparently, trusting God wasn’t a problem for Jesus’ disciples since they went out on their merry way—without ANY supplies—and had a very successful journey preaching in the countryside. 

So what is Jesus trying to tell us this week, sending the guys out two-by-two but without any supplies? It’s simple: we must trust in God and assist one another. He didn’t send them out alone. He sent them out in pairs so they could help and encourage each other. 

This is the exact opposite of what we do. We don’t trust in God and we depend only on ourselves: the quintessentially American “Lone Ranger, John Wayne, I did it my way” mindset.   
One of the mottos of Alcoholics Anonymous is, “Let go and let God.” One of the hardest things in the world is to admit we can’t do everything ourselves and we need God’s help. But if we are able to take Jesus at His word and trust in Him for everything—even the here-and-now everyday stuff—our lives will be transformed and our journey will be successful. 

But it probably couldn’t hurt to bring along a few extra snacks. 

Personal Enrichment During the Shutdown

Recently, I read an article that discussed some of the productive things people did with their spare time during the COVID pandemic shutdown. By the way, I’m not sure which term best describes the last 15 months: shutdown, lockdown, quarantine, etc. I think historians will look back on the period of time from March, 2020, through June, 2021, and call it “The Great Pause.”

Anyway, with all the free time available during the last year-plus, a lot of folks made the most of the opportunity and engaged in personal enrichment activities. According to the article, this helped these individuals to “grow as a person.” For example, some people learned a second language. For many years I’ve wanted to learn how to speak Spanish, especially since Spanish has become so commonplace with my two favorite institutions, Catholicism and baseball.
But alas, it turns out that eating Tostitos and salsa is not a great way to learn a foreign language. Other than saying, “adios” when a guy strikes out during a beisbol game, my knowledge of Spanish still is nada.

During the pandemic shutdown, many people learned to play a musical instrument, such as the guitar. I was going to buy a guitar last year and start watching YouTube videos to learn how to play it. But I didn’t want to, uh, bother the neighbors. Yeah, that’s it. I didn’t want the neighbors to complain. So, instead, I learned something equally as impressive: I now know how to download songs onto my smartphone so I can listen to music. After all, listening to music is pretty much the same thing as making music, right?

Some folks used their spare time during the COVID crisis to write a novel. I never got around to writing a novel during the past year, but for many decades I’ve been thinking up some great ideas for novels. My plots are so clever, there’s no doubt in my mind they will be best-sellers, just as soon as I can force myself to wake up a couple hours early each morning and write it all down. Yeah, I’m sure that will be happening any day now.
For the time being, I’ll have to settle for writing these 600-word essays each week on monumental topics such as nose hair, Pop Tarts, and beisbol. But there’s no doubt in my mind a best-seller is just around the corner.

With so much free time available since the Spring of 2020, some people decided to do research and make new and important discoveries. And this is exactly what I did! During the shutdown, I did some major research and discovered that the Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs sold during the Easter season taste better than the regular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. This is due to a more optimal peanut butter-to-chocolate ratio. I still need to conduct additional scientific experiments to quantify the exact percentages, but my research has been suspended until next Spring, since they stopped selling the Eggs right after Easter. (Unless, of course, the Hershey Corporation wants to provide a research grant, in the form of a few pallets of off-season Peanut Butter Eggs. Just a thought.)
In keeping with the goal of growing as a person, I must say my Reese’s research indeed has helped me to grow as a person. Mostly around the waist.

Some people might say I really did not take advantage of my free time to engage in personal enrichment activities. Well, to these folks I say: just wait until the NEXT pandemic. Next time I am definitely going to write a novel — in Spanish — and set it to original music that I’ll compose on my guitar. ¡Hasta luego, mis amigos! 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

A Prayer for More Faith

My new favorite Bible verse is Mark 9:24. A desperate man cried out to Jesus, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

At first glance, this statement seems a bit contradictory. The guy says that he believes, but immediately adds that he is unbelieving. Well, which is it, pal? Do you believe or do you not believe?
When it comes to matters of faith, it’s not a simple yes-or-no, black-or-white situation. Belief in God can fall on a wide spectrum, from zero-percent faith, such as a militant atheist, all the way to 100-percent, 24/7, passionate faith. The zealous and relentless St. Paul comes to mind.

If I had written on this topic a couple of decades ago, I probably would have mentioned Mother Teresa as my example of 100-percent passionate faith. Her entire life was a shining example of sacrificing everything to serve others, the epitome of answering the Gospel call.

However, after Mother Teresa’s death, it was revealed that she struggled through times of wavering faith. For long stretches she did not sense the presence of God in her life. I don’t know if she ever was tempted to renounce her faith entirely. But she certainly experienced some bleak times, what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.”

The fact that even Mother Teresa struggled at times with faith is actually very comforting to me. When I first became a Christian over three decades ago, I was fired up for the faith. I was certain that I landed on the 100-percent end of the faith spectrum and would always stay there.
It was just a matter of time, I was convinced, until I distinguished myself as my generation’s version of either Billy Graham or Archbishop Sheen or C.S. Lewis; or maybe a combination of all three. I was going to spread the Good News of the Gospel to all the world, using my brilliant writing and communication skills, my charismatic personality, and my inexhaustible supply of energy.

Then, as time went on, I finally realized my writing and communication skills were mediocre, my personality was kind of meh, and my energy supply was running on empty.

Back in those early days, I expected to become a Christian writer and speaker known throughout the world. Now, I’m just praying that I don’t screw things up too much in my little corner of the world.

It turns out I don’t in fact land on the 100-percent end of the faith spectrum. Not even close. On good days, I hope I’m a little bit past the 50-percent mark. And on bad days, well, sometimes it seems I can hear Jesus’ frustrated voice saying to me, “Oh ye of little faith!”

This is why the desperate man in Mark’s gospel is so comforting to me. He came to Jesus in a panic; his young son was possessed by a demon. The fact that he came to Jesus showed that at least he had a little faith. Maybe his desperation was much greater than his faith at that moment, but he would not have bothered to seek Jesus if he had zero faith.

The man’s seemingly contradictory statement expressed a simple fact: he had some faith, but he admitted it was weak. He acknowledged that his faith needed to increase.
His plea is a terrific prayer for those times when it seems we are drifting into the dark night of the soul. Looking heavenward and exclaiming, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” is a great way to admit to God that we’re struggling and we need help. Whenever I offer this prayer, I can feel my faith getting a little boost.

The unnamed man in Mark 9:24 is a biblical hero in my book. (You know, the book I never got around to writing because I have no energy.) When we honestly admit our faith is weak and sincerely ask the Lord to increase our faith, He will do it. 

The Old Days of Kitchen Wall Communicating

There are people in society who refuse to join the modern world. These odd folks cling to an ancient lifestyle and shun many conveniences of the 21st century. Even Amish people look at these quirky citizens and say, “Dude, you’re taking this live-in-the-past thing WAY too far!”

I am speaking, of course, about the old-fashioned people among us who insist on keeping their landline telephones.
A recent television documentary, broadcast either on the History Channel or the Cartoon Network, I forget which one, explored conditions in those prehistoric days. If you can imagine it, back then telephones were actually attached to a wall, often in the kitchen of the house.
The telephone had a wire, referred to as a cord, and you could use the phone only by remaining within the maximum radius of the cord, usually no more than six or eight feet. No, I’m not kidding! You could not have a phone conversation while walking down the street or while driving in your car, as Nature intended. If you wanted to call someone, you had to stay in the kitchen, tethered to a plastic box screwed onto the wall.

Additionally, there were wires inside the walls, which exited the house and connected to a larger set of wires on the utility poles running parallel to the street. From here, all the wires from all the other homes continued on until reaching the ugliest building in town, a windowless square monolith known as the Phone Company building. What the Phone Company did with the wires at this point, no one really knows. Being a legal monopoly, the organization was not required to, nor had any interest in, disclosing details of how it operated. However, wires crisscrossed the nation and connected each home, such that a view from outer space made it appear North America was tangled in a gigantic black spider’s web. But if you wanted to have a conversation with someone in, say, Missouri via the box on their kitchen wall, you could.
With this old-style communication system, there were no cell phone towers involved, nor were there radio signals, satellites, wifi, bluetooth or any other technology that would be classified today as “wireless.” But on the other hand, the old systems did not require charger cords. The mysterious boxes screwed to the kitchen wall somehow furnished their own electrical power, even when a thunderstorm killed power to every other item in the house. One expert quoted in the TV documentary referred to this unending source of telephone power by its scientific term: “magic.”
OK, I may be exaggerating a little about the old and mysterious landline telephones. I realize they are still around and are still being used. In fact, up until six months ago, we had one in our house, even though we hardly ever used it anymore after getting cell phones. We sold the house and moved, and the new place was not wired for a landline phone. We have not missed the ol’ wall phone at all. (Except one time, when I needed to make a call and couldn’t locate my cell phone. Thinking back, I’m pretty sure I never once misplaced the kitchen wall.)

Although more and more people are going “wireless” these days, we still have a wire problem. Most homes now have at least one kitchen drawer that has become a rat’s nest of charger cords. And no matter how many cords are shoved in that drawer, we can never find the one we need.
I was reminded of this the other day when my Amish friend, Jedidiah, said to me, “Dude, can I borrow your iPhone charger? My battery’s almost dead!”

Friday, June 18, 2021

Jesus Reverses the Curse

In our culture, we are often told that “death is just a part of life,” and that “death is perfectly natural.” 

These statements are told to us by many wise modern philosophers, including animated cartoon characters in the classic Disney movie, “The Lion King.” (I love that film, by the way. When our daughters were young a couple of decades ago, we popped that tape in the ol’ VCR machine all the time, along with other great Disney children’s movies such as “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and Beast,” and “Platoon.”)
In “The Lion King,” it’s explained that all living things, including we humans, are part of the great “circle of life,” where each generation has to move on and make room for the next generation — often by becoming food for the next generation. 

So, the idea is that death is just a natural part of life. Well, tell that to Jairus, the man in this week’s gospel reading at Mass, as his friends come and tell him, “Your daughter has died; why trouble [Jesus] any longer?” Sure, just tell Jairus that death is perfectly natural. Sing Elton John’s “The Circle of Life” song for him. “Oh, you got a dead kid there, Jairus? Hey, you’ll get over it. C’mon pal, let’s go have some lunch.” 

I suspect we are constantly told this “death is natural” view to keep us from becoming despondent at the death of loved ones, and to keep us from being terrified by the thought of our own death. However, the idea that “death is just a part of life” is the farthest thing from God’s view. God did not create life just so it ultimately could die and wither away.  

Death was not part of God’s original plan. For example, when Jesus stood before His friend Lazarus’ grave — even though He knew He was about to raise him from the dead — the Bible tells us that Jesus wept. That’s how repugnant the whole idea of death was to Jesus.
Just think of it: Jesus was the only person present at that moment who KNEW Lazarus would be walking and talking and hugging his family in a few moments. And yet Jesus wept at death, at the way death had corrupted the perfect creation He had spoken into existence before the beginning of time (John 1:3). Death was not, and has never been, a part of God’s plan for mankind. Death is an abomination; it is an obscenity; it is a curse. 

Up until the year 2004, Boston Red Sox fanatics such as myself had a rallying cry: “Reverse the Curse!” This referred to the so-called “Curse of the Bambino,” the idea that the late, great Babe Ruth had cursed the Red Sox never to win the World Series as punishment for trading him to the rival New York Yankees. At times — Bucky, Buckner, Boone, etc. — it certainly seemed as though this curse was real. It took 86 years, but the Sox finally reversed the curse. 
The reason Jesus came to earth was to reverse the curse — the curse of death. His sacrificial death on the cross once and for all paid the price for the entire world’s sins. And His rising from the grave three days later conquered death. What Satan had gleefully unleashed in the Garden of Eden, Jesus reversed on Calvary. 

So, even though we still have to deal with the death of our physical bodies on this side of eternity, death no longer has the final word. The Word made flesh changed all that. The crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus made it possible for our souls and our glorified bodies to have eternal life in Heaven. 

Death is still painful and horrific, and anyone who tries to cheer us up with that “death is just a natural part of life” nonsense — whether a well-meaning but foolish friend or a philosophical cartoon character singing a catchy movie tune — should be gently but firmly hushed. 

Death is painful, but it is no longer hopeless. Jesus changed all that. The curse has been reversed. Thank God!

Has Baseball Become Unwatchable?

 This is my official annual baseball essay. Well, I don’t really have an “official” annual baseball essay, and even if I did, I already wrote about baseball three weeks ago. So, if anything, this would be my official semi-monthly baseball essay, in which case, I should be working for the Sports Department rather than the Features Department. But the Sports Department already has a team of terrific writers, so maybe I could convince the editors to let me write movie reviews, which probably wouldn’t work out so well, since my method of judging movies is a bit simplistic: if there are lots of explosions, then it’s a great movie, and if there’s lots of talking about personal relationships, then it’s a lousy movie. I guess I should be grateful I’m doing whatever it is I’ve been doing each week on this page for the past 20 years.

Anyway, even though I already discussed baseball quite recently, I’m compelled to revisit that topic again. After being shut down for most of last year due to the pandemic, major league games are being played in front of actual fans, rather than last year’s awkward cardboard cutouts. This should be a golden age for baseball. There’s one slight problem, however: the games are almost unwatchable.

Over the last decade, a concept called “analytics” has come to dominate the game. Every aspect of play is analyzed by sophisticated computer software to determine what steps should be taken to maximize the chances of success. The defensive “shifts” commonly employed nowadays are one obvious result.

Analytics has impacted hitting, too. The computers have determined the best way to win a game is to have every player try to hit a home run on every swing, regardless of the situation. So, the number of home runs has indeed risen in recent years. What’s also risen are the number of strikeouts and walks, two aspects of the game with no action.

Sportswriter Tom Verducci hit the nail on the head recently when he said every team now has a roster filled with Dave Kingmans. If you’re not familiar with Dave Kingman, he was a big, strong guy who played in the 1970s and ‘80s. He could do only one thing well as a baseball player: hit home runs. His 1982 season with the Mets epitomized his career. That season, he hit 37 home runs with 99 RBIs — very respectable. But his batting average was only .204 and he struck out a league leading 156 times. In 1982, this was extremely frustrating for Mets fans, as his one or two homers each week never seemed to offset his relentless whiffs. But in 2021, Kingman would be the MVP of analytics.
When the batter makes contact and puts the ball in play, 10 people immediately start moving (more, if there are runners on base). When the batter strikes out or walks, no one moves, except maybe some folks in the grandstands who move toward the exit because a nine inning game should never take four hours to complete.

I like to think of myself as a knowledgeable baseball fan, who knows the subtle intricacies of the game. But it’s actually more like my take on movies. If there’s a lot of action, I like it. If they stand around and talk for the whole movie, meh. Major league baseball has become a chick flick. And those of us who want to see steady action are not satisfied when one homer finally interrupts a string of 11 strikeouts.
Don’t worry. At this rate, there will not be a third official annual baseball essay later this summer. But maybe I’ll review “Wonder Woman vs. Godzilla” when it hits the theaters.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Faith and Fear on the High Seas

I’m an excellent “Monday morning quarterback.” I can second-guess people all day long. I suspect it’s a skill developed from being a sports fan.

Oftentimes I apply this same talent for criticism toward the Twelve Apostles. As I sit back in my comfortable reclining chair with my Bible in my lap, I’ll shake my head and exclaim, “Oh Peter! How could you deny Jesus three times? If you had only stood firm that night, you would’ve gone down in history as the Apostle of Courage!” (The implication, of course, is that if I had been in Peter’s place that night, despite dozens of armed Roman soldiers, I would have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Jesus during His time of need. Yeah, sure.) 

There is one event in the gospels, however, where I am not at all tempted to be a “Monday morning quarterback.” Unlike all the other episodes where I easily criticize and second-guess the disciples, deluding myself into thinking that I would have acted wisely and courageously if I were in their place, the event described in this week’s gospel reading is different. When a sudden storm came up and threatened to sink the disciples’ boat, they were perfectly justified in my view to squeal like a bunch of frightened 9-year-olds. I know that’s what I would have done. 

After Jesus awakened and then calmed the raging storm, He asked the disciples, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” 

Um, not to be disrespectful, Jesus, but on this one I have to side with the apostles. No matter how much faith a guy has, when his boat is about to go under in the middle of a powerful squall, I think being terrified is a very appropriate reaction. 

I admit it, I’m not a big “boat guy.” Even though I grew up along the shoreline and have been on boats a lot, as soon as the water gets choppy, in the back of my mind I start hearing Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
The point Jesus made to His disciples is quite valid: faith drives out fear. Whenever I find myself anxious and frightened (not counting boat-related situations), it’s usually a time when my faith life is weak. If my trust and hope in the Lord is shaky, many of the everyday occurrences of life can make me nervous and worried. 

But when my relationship with the Lord is strong — when I KNOW that He loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life and promised that He will never leave me nor forsake me — then even the more frightening situations of life aren’t so bad. When financial difficulties or serious health issues arise, as they have at times in the past (and surely will again in the future), as long as my faith is strong, I find that I can honestly face these problems with a reasonable amount of serenity and peace. 

The other point Jesus made to His disciples was demonstrated by His actions. Jesus is, as it says in Romans 10:12, the “Lord of all.” And that includes the Lord of nature, too. When the disciples asked each other, “Who then is this whom even the wind and sea obey?” the answer was clear: He is the Word made flesh, the One through whom the entire Universe was created. Since this is the case, Jesus certainly has the power to control a small storm on a small lake. 
So, this week’s gospel reading reminds us of who exactly Jesus is. And this week’s gospel reminds us that when our faith is strong, then there is nothing on earth that can terrify us.
Notice I said on EARTH. Out on the sea, that’s a whole different ball game.

No Doubt About It: Boomers Are Cool

The other day I saw an online article titled, “Things Baby Boomers Think Are Cool.” Not surprisingly, the article was written by a Millennial, and the unsaid but implied ending of that title was, “...But Definitely Are Not.”

Baby Boomers, my generation, are the people born during the post-war years of 1946 through 1964. Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, and most Millennials are the offspring of Boomers. A Google search for the phrase, “Things Boomers think are cool,” yields more than 17 million matches. This means a lot of Millennials are using blogs and online media to make fun of their parents.
Here are some of the items Baby Boomers such as myself allegedly think are cool: golf, shopping at the mall, landline telephones, writing checks, newspapers, cursive handwriting, the US Postal Service, paper bills in the mail, cable TV, meatloaf, detective shows on network TV, talk radio, and using email for personal communication.

Millennials prefer these alternate choices, in the same order: video games, online shopping, smart phones, the Venmo app, news websites, typing on touchscreens, digital communication, online banking, streaming video services, avocado toast, binge-watching Netflix, podcasts, and text messaging.

If you are perceptive, you’ll notice that every item on the Millennial list requires the Internet, except for avocado toast. On the other hand, there has never been a single order of avocado toast that wasn’t paid for with some kind of digital service or debit card.

I get that the article was playfully sarcastic, even though that’s a style of writing with which I am completely unfamiliar (except on days that end in “Y”).
It’s not that my fellow Baby Boomers and I are ignorant of digital technology. In fact, all my friends have smartphones, make purchases online, send text messages, and read internet news sites. Most of them do online banking and watch Netflix (with a few actually paying for the service rather than “borrowing” someone else’s password).

I’m pretty sure, however, that ALL my contemporaries, when given the choice of meatloaf or avocado toast, would choose meatloaf every time — while listening to an album by Meat Loaf. (Yes, there was a singer in the 1970s named “Meat Loaf.” Look it up.)
We Baby Boomers don’t think the items on that list are necessarily cool. We just remember a time when those things were the only options available, and we know they still work. I mean, if a Boomer writes out a check in cursive and sends it to a Millennial via the Post Office, is the young smart-aleck NOT going to cash it? We Boomers can operate in both worlds, digital and Stone Age. It’s like being able to speak two languages. Boomers are technologically bilingual.
There is one item on the Boomer list that is indeed very cool: newspapers. And I don’t say that just because this newspaper column has been the source of my personal fame and fortune. Newspapers are the epitome of “old school” cool. (Boomers always use the Bugs Bunny pronunciation of that word: “EPP-eh-toam”.)
Swiping your germ-infested fingers across the dirty screen of an iPad to read internet news stories is not an advancement in technology; it’s a sad regression. There is nothing like the feel of a real newspaper in your hands. If your hands are going to get dirty anyway, it might as well be with good clean newsprint. Besides, three-quarters of what you read on Internet news sites was originally written by a newspaper employee. Also, try swatting a fly with your iPad. Oops, there’s a $600 mistake.
The article I read listed one last thing that Boomers think is cool: complaining about Millennials. OK, that one is both true and very cool. Right on, brother! Boomers rock!

Saturday, June 5, 2021

A Personal Conversion Story

 The claims of Christianity are quite amazing, and there are a lot of logical and reasonable arguments to believe that these claims are true. However, sometimes discussions that include philosophical and metaphysical analysis can be unpersuasive, often because the subject matter gets a little too abstract. Once in a while, a better way to share the Good News of Jesus Christ is to relate how belief in Christ changed your life.

I admit I often focus too much, for example, on St. Thomas Aquinas’ five philosophical proofs for the existence of God, or the scientific comparison of DNA molecules and computer code and the fact both are too complex and intricate to have come into existence by accident — therefore, an intelligent designer is the most likely explanation. It’s been a long time since I told the story of my conversion and the impact faith had on me.
From the age of 16 to 28, I was very content being an anti-supernaturalist. (That’s just a smart-aleck way of saying “atheist.”) I stopped believing what I was taught in church and at catechism classes, and I decided the natural world was all that existed. Things like gods and demons, Heaven and Hell, and life after death were, in my mind, fairy tales invented by pre-scientific cultures.
Then, moments after our first child was born, I sat down in a Yale New Haven Hospital delivery room, and thought about what had just happened. Just as I was finally beginning to relax, I was stunned by a sudden revelation. It occurred to me that what I had just witnessed was way too complex to be a mere product of random natural processes.

The intricacy and perfect timing of countless biological systems during the pregnancy and birth process floored me. I realized my anti-supernaturalist view was far too inadequate. Swirling chemicals interacting and forming various molecules, even over the course of billions of years, could not accidentally arrange themselves into the stunning complexity I had just observed. Suddenly it occurred to me that biological life must have been designed and shaped by an outside creative force. But what was that force? Could it be what those superstitious people called God?

So, on that day my world was rocked. I started to ponder whether there was something outside of nature (by definition, super-natural) that had designed and created life. I concluded that my anti-supernatural viewpoint was way too narrow.
For the next few months, I started reading about this issue. Included on my reading list were items I would’ve laughed at a year earlier, specifically books about Christianity. Many of my childhood catechism lessons — which I had dismissed as nonsense — now started to make sense to me.

One quiet evening during the holiday season, while my wife and baby daughter were asleep, I noticed the creche near our Christmas tree. I looked at the little plastic figure of the baby Jesus, and whispered, “Are you really who people say you are? If so, I want to know you. I want you to guide my life, like these books say you can.”

Yeah, that was not exactly the most profound prayer ever uttered. But it was sincere. I was genuinely seeking the truth and willing to follow the evidence wherever it led.

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention. During my high school years I started drinking beer with my buddies, and boy, did I take to alcohol like a duck to water. A decade later I had become a full-blown alcoholic, although I didn’t know it yet.

Here’s the key moment: when I whispered to Jesus the phrase, “I want you to guide my life,” the craving for alcohol disappeared. From that moment on, I did not want to be drunk anymore. A new sense of purpose filled me. I can’t emphasize enough how stunning this was. Up until that time, getting intoxicated was the most important thing in my life, even more important, I’m ashamed to say, than my new baby and my darling wife.
Jesus instantly took away my craving for booze. It was an absolute miracle.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many logical and reasonable arguments for the truth of the Christian Gospel. However, a really strong argument is personal experience. I experienced an amazing transformation by uttering a simple prayer to a God I hoped existed but wasn’t quite sure.
Superstitions and fairy tales don’t transform people’s lives. Only the living God, Creator of Heaven and earth, could have instantly removed my craving to be drunk. I know Jesus is real because He worked a real miracle in my life. It may not be a St. Thomas Aquinas philosophical proof, but it’s proof enough for me.

The Tragic Loss of a Loved One

Recently, a loved one went in for a minor procedure, and unfortunately did not make it out alive. It was so tragic. I never even had a chance to say goodbye. When I heard the terrible news, I sadly exclaimed, “How am I going to manage without my iPhone?!”
It was supposed to be so simple. Just drop off my beloved phone at the electronics store, and then an hour later, come pick it up after a technician installed a new battery. I knew the phone was almost four years old, which is like a lifetime-and-a-half in the cell phone world. But I really liked that device. It worked great, except the battery no longer held a charge very long. So, the plan was easy-peasy: drop it off, pay 80 bucks, and an hour later pick up the phone with its new, revitalized battery.

When I came back an hour later, I suspected something was amiss when the technician said, “Um, it’s a little trickier than I thought. Give me another 20 minutes, OK?”

I said sure, and went back out to my car to wait, knowing I could pass the time by checking emails or watching baseball highlight videos on my phone. Oops, I didn’t have the phone. I had to pass the time with only my thoughts. It was a painfully long 20 minutes.

Then I went back inside and the technician looked like he was about to cry. “I hate to say this,” he blurted out, “but your phone is, um, it’s dead. I’m so sorry! I accidently cut a wire when removing the old battery, and it just, well, it just won’t work anymore.”
He was so sincerely upset, it occurred to me that he possessed more compassion than many surgeons. “That’s all right. You did everything you could,” I said, while patting him gently on the shoulder.
Then he asked, “By the way, did you back up all your photos and documents before you brought your phone here?”
I immediately grabbed him by the throat and screamed, “You idiot! Why didn’t you remind me to do that BEFORE you murdered my loved one?!”

To his credit, the electronic store technician replaced the dead phone the next day with a new one, the exact same make and model. And it was free.

So, I have three observations about this ordeal. First, I depend on my smartphone way more than I thought; probably a lot more than is healthy. Besides work-related phone calls, emails, and text messages, I use my phone to watch videos and listen to music. It also functions as my GPS, address book, camera, photo album, alarm clock, book library, flashlight, calculator, weather forecaster, and sports scoreboard. Being without it for more than a day (32 hours and 12 minutes, but who’s counting?) caused severe withdrawal symptoms.
Second, it turns out the measly three dollars I pay each month for 200 gigabytes of extra storage with Apple’s iCloud is WELL worth it. All my photos and documents were restored onto the new phone. If you haven’t purchased this, do so now!

Finally, it turns out the replacement phone, although “brand new” in the sense that it had never been used before, was manufactured the same time as my old phone, about four years ago. It’s been sitting in a warehouse somewhere all this time. It does everything my old phone did, but just like the old one, it has a weak battery! Isn’t that ironic? I’m right back where I started.

I’m pretty sure I won’t be asking that same technician to install a new battery. At this point, we’ve both been through enough trauma. Also, I probably shouldn’t violate the restraining order. 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Should We ‘Fear’ the Lord?

 Last week we discussed Pope Saint John Paul the Great’s favorite expression: “Be not afraid.” At first glance, the pope’s statement seems unrealistic. There’s a lot of scary stuff going on in our world, and being fearful is a logical reaction. But the pope was viewing life from a Heavenly perspective (and now that his early life is over, he is REALLY viewing things from a Heavenly perspective!). If we know that God is all powerful and all good, and if we trust that He will always be there for us, then we really can avoid, or at least minimize, fear.

So, the greatest person of the 20th century was right in proclaiming to the world that we should not be afraid. Fear is not a good thing, and since faith drives out fear, we should rely on our faith in God to keep us away from fear.

Terrific. But then we open the Bible and read this in Proverbs: “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Umm, so which is it? Is fear bad and something to be avoided? Or is fear something the Bible commands us to embrace?

To be honest, that statement from the Book of Proverbs has bothered me for a long time. It sure seems to be saying that we should have fear, which was the opposite of what the nuns taught me in catechism class. They said, “Jesus is your dear friend.” (“But should we be terrified of Him, Sister?”)

They said, “God loves you.” (“But should we cower in fright in His presence?”) I’m paraphrasing, since I’m pretty sure in the 6th grade I didn’t know the meaning of the word cower. Now I know it’s a person who works with cows.

By the way, if you’re a bit confused, I went through catechism classes after Vatican II, from the mid-1960s to the early ‘70s. So, the nuns really did teach that God loves us. I understand the main message during catechism classes in the pre-V2 era was more along these lines: “God is SO angry at you, young man, you’d better pray that Mary lets you in the side door of Heaven, ‘cause that’s your only chance!”
Anyway, one day I finally noticed the footnote in my New American Bible for Proverbs 1:7. It says, “Fear of the Lord: primarily a disposition rather than the emotion of fear; reverential awe and respect toward God combined with obedience to God’s will.”

Well, that’s much different, isn’t it? In my mind, “reverential awe and respect” is a whole lot different than fear.
Now, of course, a supernatural Being with the power to create the entire Universe can be rather frightening. The difference between God and human beings is astronomical. If you said it’s like comparing men to bed bugs, you wouldn’t even be close. Men and bed bugs are made of the same substance, except one is a little more complex than the other. (I’ll let you decide which is more complex.)

With God, we’re talking about something completely different in substance compared to human beings. So, if a person stands before the living God, with such a massive difference in power and majesty, it’s logical for the human to cower in fear. Logical, that is, if we know nothing about God other than His omnipresence and omnipotence. Maybe this overwhelmingly powerful Being is angry and vindictive. Maybe He gets His kicks out of squashing people like bed bugs. That certainly would be a God to fear.

However, the Christian faith is based on Revelation. I don’t mean the last book of the Bible, but rather the fact that the Almighty Creator of the Universe took the time to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. And just like those nuns taught me a half-century ago, God does love us, and His only begotten Son, Jesus, can be our dear friend if we put our faith in Him.
We don’t have to be fearful, because love conquers fear. And God loves us more than we can comprehend. The only reason He created us is to be in a loving relationship with Him.

I wish Bible translators would update the wording of Proverbs. I prefer, “Awe of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Awe is a great word for how we should view God. He is awesome.

And besides, we’ve got enough things to fear in this crazy world. We don’t need the Bible accidentally adding to it. So, Pope John Paul was right. We should “be not afraid.”

This Left-Hander Is Out of Control

 This is my official annual baseball essay. Well, I don’t really have an “official” annual baseball essay, any more than I have an official annual “Playing golf is too frustrating” essay or an official annual “Why are there so many crazy drivers on the highway?” essay. It’s just that those topics are on my mind quite often.

You may have noticed over the years that I like baseball. (I am using the word “like” in the same sense that one might say Senator Richard Blumenthal likes to hold press conferences. In other words, total obsession.) To give you an idea, whenever I see my daughters, they know I will give them grief if they don’t answer quickly and correctly when I blurt out, “What’s a pitcher’s best friend?!”
As I write this, my beloved Red Sox are hovering near first place in the American League East. However, by the time you read this a week or two from now, they could be in ninth place. (Which is hard to do, since there are only five teams in the division. But the way the Sox have played the past couple of years, I only have one word to say: “Ya never know.”)

Recently, I’ve noticed that while watching baseball games on TV, I’m very critical of pitchers with lousy control. Actually, it was my friend Mickey Blarney who noticed. He pointed out that in a 20-minute span, I yelled the exact same thing at the television three different times, which was, “Dude! Hit your spots! Fastballs on the inside corner, then change-ups low and away. It’s a formula that’s worked since Abner Doubleday was in Little League!”

First, let’s be clear: my pitching strategy is correct. Hard stuff inside then off-speed stuff away is a tried and true formula. Good pitchers don’t just rear back and throw as hard as they can. Major league batters can catch up to even the fastest fastball. Instead, the art of pitching is to mess up the hitter’s timing.
An interesting aspect of my pitching criticism today is the fact my personal pitching career years ago lasted exactly one varsity game. I was a sophomore in high school. During pre-season practice, the head coach took one look at me and said, “You’re tall and skinny and left-handed. You must be a pitcher.”
I replied, “No, I must be a first baseman because saying that I ‘throw like a girl’ is a major insult to girls.” Actually, I didn’t say anything. Age 15 wasn’t a high self-esteem era in my life. I went through most days tongue-tied and terrified.

Because the coach figured height and handedness were more important to pitching than any discernible throwing skills, a few weeks into the season, he named me as the starting pitcher for our next game. I wish he had told me this two minutes before the game rather than two days before. High school sophomores should never go 48 straight hours without any sleep.

Anyway, I muddled through the first two innings. Then in the third, the wheels fell off. I set a school record that I’m quite sure has never been broken. I walked eight guys in one inning. Yeow! Eight! When the coach finally removed me, I heard him mutter, “But you’re tall, you’re left-handed. How can you NOT be a pitcher?”

I guess there’s a Freudian explanation for why I now criticize pitchers so much when they struggle with control. Although I hear Freud was short, stocky, and right-handed, and his high school coach forced him to be a catcher, which he resented the rest of his life.
So, that’s my annual baseball essay. And by the way, the correct answer is: “The double play!”