Friday, October 29, 2021

We Are Spiritual Beings Temporarily Inside Physical Bodies

French priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who lived in the first half of the 20th century, was quoted as saying, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

If we stop and think about what our faith teaches, de Chardin’s statement is obvious. The Church teaches that at the moment of our conception, God infused our physical being with an eternal, supernatural soul. Once our bodies die and see corruption (don’t forget what they repeatedly say on Ash Wednesday: “Remember Man that you are dust and to dust you shall return”), our supernatural souls will live on forever, either in the joyful presence of God or in a despairing separation from Him. 
So, if our souls are going to exist for far longer than a billion times a trillion years, while our bodies are going to live for 60, 80, or if we’re really lucky, 100 years, then it’s pretty obvious which is more important, our spirits or our flesh. When you compare an infinity of centuries to one century at best, our spirits win in a landslide. It’s not even close.

With this in mind, how do most people, including many professing Christians, live their lives nowadays? Well, if you’ve been paying attention, you know that we live as if our natural, physical existence was all there is. OK, maybe some folks pause to get in touch with their spiritual side for an hour on Sunday mornings. (Or if you’re like me and your mind tends to wander, 20 minutes tops.)

For those of us who claim to believe in God and profess that the core doctrines of the Church are true, why do we spend so much of our time and energy focused on fleeting, natural things, and all but ignore our soul, our spirit, and the eternal world?

Well, that’s an easy one. It’s because focusing on the natural world is the path of least resistance. As our science teachers taught us many years ago, all of Nature seeks the path of least resistance. This is fine when you’re applying the laws of physics to, say, an exhaust fan or a water pump (as I do regularly in my HVAC engineering sales job). But following the path of least resistance is a poor way to develop a strong spiritual life.
What exactly do I mean by the path of least resistance? First, let’s consider what life was like in a bygone era, for example, the 18th century. People woke up, went to work, came home, had dinner, and then during the time between dinner and bed, there were a few hours to light a candle and sit and talk. Or sit and read. Or sit and pray. It was quiet and there was plenty of time to ponder deep things, such as Why did God make me? What is my purpose in life? Where am I going?

Nowadays, we are surrounded by distractions: TVs, smartphones, iPads, computers, playlists, earbuds, websites, social media, video games, etc. It is rarely quiet and we never ponder anymore.

(Full disclosure: as I type this essay, I’m on the couch with my laptop, and the TV on the wall is showing an NFL game. The iPad on the coffee table has a baseball game. Next to me on the couch are my computer mouse, the TV remote, my iPhone, and the case that holds my earbuds. I am lamenting the loss of solitude and ponder-time, while sitting here up to my ear holes in noisy distractions. So yeah, most of the time the main point of these essays is to encourage myself.)
The path of least resistance allows a slew of electronic distractions to dominate our waking hours. We don’t have time to ponder, we don’t have time to pray, we don’t have time to listen to God’s quiet voice trying to speak to our souls. The path of least resistance causes us to be “spiritual beings having a human experience” who promptly lock our spirits in a vault and throw away the key. 

We really need to stop drifting along on the path of least resistance. (And by “we” I mean “me.”) We need to do the difficult thing and turn off the electronic gizmos once in a while and learn how to ponder. After all, if we really are spiritual beings dwelling temporarily inside earthly bodies, our spirits need to grow and mature. I mean, who wants to arrive at the gates of Heaven with a spirit that flunked out of Kindergarten? 

Going Bonkers on I-84

 I was driving on Interstate-84 the other day, as I’ve been doing almost every day for most of the past three decades, and I experienced something that’s been happening more and more frequently. I was cruising along on my way to work. The highway was kind of crowded with cars and trucks, but everyone was moving at a good clip. (“A good clip” is defined as 10 to 20 MPH above the posted speed limit. If someone decides to drive AT the speed limit, that’s called a major slowdown.)

As I was driving along, I approached some construction work. Yes, I know you’re shocked. “Construction work? On I-84? That never happens!”
Actually, if you consider the entire length of I-84 in our state, from the New York border in Danbury to the Massachusetts border in the town of Union, there has never been a time when there was NOT construction work taking place. This is true even going all the way back to when the highway was first built in the early 1600s by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe. (I bet they regret not installing tolls right from the beginning.)

Anyway, I was driving along, and when I got to the construction zone, big orange signs indicated the speed limit was reduced to 50 MPH. I glanced down at my speedometer and saw that I was doing 65 MPH, as was every other car and truck around me. (By the way, I’m hoping this printed confession in the newspaper will not prompt the State Police to mail me a speeding ticket. If they do, then they need to give one to each of the other 2,000 drivers who also were ignoring the big orange signs that morning.)

Right after glancing down at my speedometer, I noticed in my rearview mirror that a car had pulled up and now was about two feet away from me, and I could see the driver was gnashing his teeth in frustration. So, here’s the situation: I’m driving through a construction zone, doing 15 MPH faster than the speed limit, and a guy on my tail is absolutely livid that I’m driving too SLOW!
This exact scenario has happened to me multiple times in recent weeks. I don’t remember it happening very often before the Covid pandemic. It seems the pandemic has caused a sizable percentage of our population, as mental health professionals would phrase it, to go bonkers.
I mean, drivers have always been harried and hurried and distracted on our interstate highways, going all the way back to when Elon Musk and Henry Ford invented the automobile. But nowadays it seems drivers are way more angry and aggressive. Also, I’ve noticed that most of the guys who pull up on my tail, angry that I’m going only 15 MHP over the speed limit, are driving BMWs, Audis, and Lexuses (or is the plural “Lexi”?).

When something like this happens to me, I usually do one of two things: I either speed up so the guy can go faster and be less angry, or I shift to a different lane so he can blow by me (and flash the “We’re number one!” hand gesture at me in the process).

But since I’m now officially a geezer, I think I’ll do something different when this situation occurs. From now on, when another driver pulls up on my tail, angry that I’m going only 65 in a 50 zone, I’m going to slow down to a little less than the speed limit. I’m sure that’ll teach him to relax.
However, before I do that, I probably should have my car windows replaced with bullet-proof glass. Like I said, there’s a lot of “bonkers” going around these days.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Why Is God So Subtle?

If you’re like me, you may occasionally wonder why God is so subtle. After all, we can’t see God, hear God, or feel Him with our sense of touch. And of course, those are the primary ways we gather information about, and interact with, our environment. Because of this, our friends who don’t believe in God often mock us and claim we worship an imaginary guy in the sky.

Don’t you sometimes wish God would take the mystery out of it and suddenly appear in all His supernatural glory, and declare in a booming voice for all to hear, “I am the eternal Creator! Why do you doubt me?!”

Yeah, that certainly would be cool. Those of us who go to church on a regular basis finally would be able to say, “See? Told ya God is real!”

But would that really be so cool? If God did suddenly appear in some kind of blazing, miraculous apparition that filled the skies with flashing lights and a resounding voice, how many non-believers would accept it? I suspect many would say it was some kind of freak weather event. (“See? Climate change is getting worse and worse!”) Others might accuse the military of unleashing a new weapon system that was developed in secrecy. (“See? I knew the Pentagon was up to no good!”)

So, many non-believers still may refuse to believe in God, even if He plainly revealed Himself to the world in a manner we could perceive with our sight, hearing, and sense of touch.
But let’s say God did reveal Himself to everyone in such a way that all doubt was removed. Let’s say everyone, even the most avowed atheist, was so overwhelmed by the blazing manifestation of God that there was no choice but to accept the fact that He is real. That would be great, wouldn’t it? No more doubters. No more unbelievers. Every single person on planet earth would know for certain that God is real. Great!
But would it really be so great? What is the one thing missing from this scenario? The one thing missing is faith. If God revealed Himself to everyone in such spectacular and obvious fashion that all doubt was removed, then our acceptance of His existence would be like accepting that the sun rises in the east each morning. There would be no faith or trust or relationship involved. It simply would be a known fact.

The main reason God created us is to be in a loving relationship with Him. But for love to be genuine, there has to be the freedom to choose to love someone or to walk away. If we’re forced to embrace someone against our will, it’s not love at all.

If God’s existence was so obvious that no one could doubt it, would people have loving relationships with Him? I don’t think so. Many would consider their relationship with God in the same way a slave relates to the master, or as a Marine recruit relates to the drill sergeant, or as a loading dock employee relates to the company CEO. In other words, the relationship would be based on the coercive difference in power, and a lot of folks surely would come to resent God.

That’s why God has to be subtle. He is real, and He is our Creator, but He doesn’t show off about it. He wants us to trust in what is unseen and to hope that it is true — the exact biblical definition of faith. 
Only when we have the freedom to say “no” to God will our “yes” to Him be the basis for a loving relationship. But if you’re like me, you have to admit that once in a while you’d love to see a blazing, miraculous apparition fill the skies, just to freak out some unbelieving friends.

Is Christmas Cancelled This Year?

You’ve probably heard the news by now that Christmas is cancelled this year. Well, it’s not exactly cancelled, but the economic supply chain disruptions have left a lot of store shelves so bare that it’s going to be very difficult for consumers to do the usual amount of holiday shopping this year. 
A recent guest editorial in the Wall Street Journal, written by a Mr. K. Kringle, mentioned my mom by name. The essay advised that the Jane Dunn Technique is our only hope this year. My mom’s shopping technique, developed with lots of scientific research, consists of buying one or two Christmas gifts every time she goes near a store throughout the entire year. Then she puts the gifts in various closets in the house. When the holiday season arrives, she wraps the gifts she can find, but typically loses track of about half of them, tucked behind clothing and shoe boxes in the closets. 

Then every April or May, while searching for a spring jacket, she’ll uncover a treasure trove of Christmas presents, which become birthday or anniversary gifts, or even a Christmas present for the next year, or sometimes the next decade. (One year my nephew, who was a college sophomore at the time, received some really nice Fisher-Price toys. He played with them all day long.)

The Jane Dunn Technique means you always have at least 180 percent more gifts in your house than you’ll ever need for a single holiday season, even if distant relatives suddenly show up unannounced on December 24th. 
However, the author of the WSJ opinion column noted that the only way at this point to employ the JDT is if you were lucky enough to have received as a Christmas gift last year a fully functioning time machine. This will allow you to go back in time to a moment long before Covid sent shock waves through the economy, and stock up on toys and electronics and all the other items that people are NOT going to find under the tree this year. A footnote to the column mentioned that the author, Mr. Kringle, is an executive in the shipping and distribution industry, so he knows what he’s talking about.

Speaking of my mom, the way economists are describing the upcoming Christmas shopping season, this year might be a nostalgic return to the Depression Era Christmases she remembers from her childhood. She swears that back then the greatest gift a child could find in his or her stocking was an orange. Yeah, an orange. I guess it was difficult in those days to ship citrus fruit from Florida to New Haven without it getting mushy and moldy, so an orange was a real treat. Also, back then coal in your stocking was not a punishment for being on the naughty list. It was another unexpected treat, which meant you could heat the house for another day. 
So, here we are, heading into the 2021 holiday season, and all the fun gifts people want are stuck on container ships anchored off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. When I was at Stop and Shop the other day, they seemed to have plenty of oranges in stock. Maybe that’s where we should do our Christmas shopping this year.

Another really radical thing we could do this year is not obsess about material goods for a change and instead give our loved ones the gift of our time and attention. Don’t look at me with such a stunned expression. You know what I mean: spend some time with people and talk to them face to face, with no cell phones allowed. It would be very special. Then give them an orange. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Confession Gets It Off Your Chest

I never thought I’d need sunblock to go to Confession. But that’s what happens if Confession takes place in the middle of the third base grandstand at New Britain Stadium on a sunny Saturday at the end of September.

The Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference was a rousing success this year. The camaraderie of 500 guys spending the day together was great. The four keynote speakers were dynamic. The concluding Mass celebrated by Archbishop Leonard Blair in front  of the pitcher’s mound was wonderful.

However, the best feature of the Conference, by far, was seeing at least 15 priests scattered throughout the grandstand hearing confessions. There was a steady line of dozens and dozens of men patiently waiting for a spot to open up. By the time the Conference was done, well over half of the 500 men present received the supernatural grace of this powerful Sacrament. 
It was a beautiful sight, and I also saw a couple of men walk away from the makeshift confessionals with tears of gratitude and relief in their eyes. There probably were more men like this, but I couldn’t see them clearly because of the tears of gratitude and relief in my eyes.

When it was my turn for Confession, the first sin I confessed was: “I spent the past 20 months using the pandemic as a poor excuse for avoiding Confession.” And if you’re waiting for me to list all the other sins I confessed, don’t hold your breath. That’s between God and me.

When I say my Confession was between God and me, you might reply, “But wait a minute. What about the priest? He heard your sins, so he’s involved, too.”

Well, that is true in one sense. But during the Sacrament of Confession, the priest is acting in persona christi, which is Latin for “In the person of Christ.” The priest, by virtue of his ordination, is the conduit through which the graces of God flow. 

Some people insist that an ordained priest and a formal ritual are not necessary to confess sins. A person can sincerely pray to God, express remorse for sinful thoughts and deeds, and ask for forgiveness. There’s no doubt God is so loving and compassionate that He hears these prayers and responds.
But the Church, in her wisdom, teaches that the Sacrament of Confession (also known as Reconciliation) is the optimal way to be forgiven, not for God’s sake or the priest’s sake, but for OUR sake.

You see, when we speak our failings and faults out loud to another person, rather than silently in our minds during private prayer, we really get it off our chest. There is no doubt in our mind whether God heard us or forgave us. When the priest audibly offers the prayer of absolution, we hear it; we know it’s true; and we know we’ve been forgiven. There is no doubt that God, working through His priest, has forgiven us.

That’s why there were tears of gratitude and relief in the eyes of so many men at the Conference. We knew God heard us and we knew we were forgiven. It’s a joyous feeling to have that weight finally lifted off your shoulders.

So, it was a great day, and the best part was the supernatural grace of forgiveness conferred through the Sacrament of Confession. And even though all the men present that day know this particular fact, I’m going to say it here anyway: Confession is available every weekend at your local parish, not just once a year at the Men’s Conference. Keep that in mind if you realize the weight of sin is dragging you down. Don’t delay until next year (or in my case, 20 long months). Go to Confession soon!
One other interesting thing happened at the Conference. I ran into Archbishop Blair just as he was arriving to say Mass. We chatted briefly, and then he saw my baseball hat, which I alway wear when at a ballpark, and he asked what the red “B” stood for. Now, I know the archbishop grew up in the Midwest and is a Detroit Tigers fan. But he’s been in New England long enough now that he should know these things. I said to him, in a somewhat shocked voice, “It stands for the Boston Red Sox, of course.”

No doubt the archbishop has a very busy and important job. But if you are located exactly halfway between New York and Boston, smack dab in the middle of the hottest rivalry in sports, there are certain things you just have to know. I’m pretty sure the Archbishop needs to go to Confession about that one. 

This Grandpa Is Out of Control

I slowly stand up in the middle of a crowded church basement. After clearing my throat, I say, “My name is Bill. And I’m a grandpa-holic.” Everyone in the room replies in unison, “Hi Bill.”

And so begins another meeting of the 12-step support group Grandparents Anonymous. 

I’m still a little shocked that I am here with all these other senior citizens struggling with compulsive behavior. For at least 30 years, I was the person who rolled his eyes whenever someone engaged in silly “grandparent antics.”

I remember the time my friend Dave, right in the middle of a Christmas party, got down on his hands and knees and started making funny faces with his 1-year-old grandson. “Aw, Dave,” I said. “That’s embarrassing. Plus, at your age, you’re gonna need help getting back up.” He completely ignored me and continued playing with the baby.
Then there was the time at a company picnic when a co-worker named Betty began acting foolishly. And she hadn’t even started drinking yet. When Betty’s son arrived at the picnic with a 3-month-old baby girl, Betty, usually a no-nonsense professional at the office, suddenly made weird cooing noises and began pinching the little girl’s cheek. I nonchalantly moved closer to Betty and whispered, “Betty, what are you doing? You’re acting ridiculous.” Just like Dave, she completely ignored me and continued cooing and pinching and saying over and over again in a high-pitched voice, “Isn’t my little granddaughter so precious?!”

In addition to those episodes when people very close to me temporarily lost their minds, there have been countless occasions when other acquaintances pulled out envelopes filled with snapshots, or more recently, their smartphones and began showing me photographs of their grandchildren. Being the polite person that I am, I usually forced a smile, nodded my head, and said, “Um, yeah, very cute.” But in the back of my mind I always thought, “C’mon, man. Babies are babies. They all look the same.”

So, for many years I was a no-nonsense rational human being. And then it happened. I became a grandfather and suddenly I was the one out of control. I pull out my phone and show photographs to anyone and everyone, at any time and every time. Even when someone gets fed up and says, “Bill, I’m not in the mood right now,” I reply, “Oh sure, I understand. But you gotta see this picture. He’s wearing the baseball hat I bought him. Isn’t he the cutest thing?!”
So, here I am, standing timidly in the basement of a church and describing my struggles. The folks in the crowd are listening attentively to my embarrassing personal stories. They nod periodically, empathizing with my difficulties. After about five minutes, I conclude and start to sit down. A lady nearby says, “That was terrific, Bill. Thanks for sharing. By the way, how is your grandson doing these days?”

Suddenly, I jump back up, filled with excitement. “Oh, he’s doing great! Let me show you!” I yell while reaching into my back pocket for my iPhone. “Here, look at this picture. Isn’t he so cute?!” 

In a matter of seconds, five dozen senior citizens leap to their feet (or what passes for leaping at our age), and start waving their phones frantically. A loud roar explodes in the room, as everyone talks loudly, excitedly, and simultaneously. “Look at little Johnny!” “This was Suzy at her birthday party last month!” “Here we are at a baseball game!” “These are the twins, who just turned four!”
Once again, a Grandparents Anonymous meeting concludes the way they always do, in total chaos. We all know that we’re behaving foolishly, and not a single one of us cares.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

To Be Great, We Must Be Servants

In the Gospel reading at Mass on Sunday, Oct. 17th, Jesus taught His disciples about the concept of power and authority. The discussion was prompted by James and John, who asked Jesus to give them the most prestigious and important positions in His kingdom. Jesus just laughed and said, “You do not know what you are asking.”

The rest of the disciples, however, were not so amused. We read, “When the [other] ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.”
Jesus gathered them all around and pointed out something they already knew: people in authority often “lord it over” their subjects. In other words, they arrogantly exercise power over those below them. 

This is the way of the world. We understand this just as much as the disciples did. People in positions of high authority — politicians, business executives, cops, teachers, coaches — often wield power like tyrants, barking out orders left and right, and becoming angry when those orders aren’t immediately carried out.
Since this behavior is so common, we assume it is perfectly normal and natural. In one sense it is natural, if by natural we mean mankind’s sinful fallen state. But if by natural we mean this behavior is good and acceptable, we are sadly mistaken — just like the disciples.

“Lording it over” people in lower positions springs from pride, which Scripture teaches is the first and worst of all sins. C.S. Lewis wrote that pride is what made the Devil the Devil. It is the desire to be better than everyone else and, just as important, to make sure that everyone else knows it. Pride is the complete anti-God state of mind.
Lewis also explained that pride is competitive. As long as there is someone else in the world who is [fill in the blank: richer, cleverer, better looking, etc.], then the prideful person will not be satisfied. I suspect this is why the other ten disciples were indignant at James and John. They were not upset because the two brothers had the chutzpah to ask for important positions in Jesus’ kingdom; they were upset because they didn’t think of it first!

Jesus told the Twelve that whoever wishes to be great must be a servant, and whoever wishes to be first must be the slave of all. Then Jesus said that He “did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.”

The Gospel reading does not tell us how the disciples reacted, but I bet they were thinking to themselves, “What in the world is this guy talking about?” To natural, sinful, prideful minds, Jesus’ words make no sense. It would be as if a corporate CEO said one of his main duties is to fetch coffee for the folks on the loading dock. Or if a college president said he wants to scrub toilets in the dorms. If either of these situations actually happened, we would say these people have a screw loose, since they’re neglecting their real duties. It makes no sense to our worldly minds.

In God’s spiritual reality, things are often the exact opposite compared to here on earth. Jesus’ lesson this week is a profound Christian paradox: whoever wishes to be great must be a servant. There are many others, by the way: you must die to live, the last shall be first, the meek shall inherit the earth, you must give to receive, etc. Each paradox makes no sense to the natural mind, but makes perfectly good sense from God’s point of view.
Jesus’ own life is proof that these Christian paradoxes are true. The incarnate Son of God, the Word through whom the entire universe was created, got down on His hands and knees and washed the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper. The next day He conquered sin by dying on the cross. And three days after that He conquered death once and for all by rising from the dead.

No doubt Jesus’ view on power and authority is very difficult to understand, especially as long as we’re on this side of eternity. But the more we strive each day to imitate the Master, the more our selfish pride will take a back seat, and the more we’ll be filled with peace and serenity.

Anti-clockwise Roundabouts and Bloody Twits

I’ve been thinking about roundabouts lately. No, I don’t mean the song “Roundabout” by the popular 1970s British band Yes. I’ve heard that song countless times, but when I looked up the lyrics online recently, I was surprised to realize I had no idea what they were saying in about two-thirds of the song. This is pretty common with a lot of rock songs, as they don’t teach a class titled Enunciation 101 at Rock ‘n Roll University. But they do offer an advanced course called Mumble & Mutter 304.
Nor was I thinking about these lyrics: “Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout, a pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray,” which is from a song by another British rock band, whose name escapes me at the moment.
Anyway, in our part of the world, the more common term for roundabout is rotary or circle. These are the highway intersections without traffic lights. Cars enter the circle turning to the right. Turning to the left would be a British move, also known in the States as a fatal move. Once in the circle, you continue in a counter-clockwise direction (or anti-clockwise, if you’re British) until you reach the road on which you wish to continue. At this point you exit the rotary and carry on your merry way.

In theory, it’s simple, safe, and effective. However, I’ve been thinking about roundabouts recently because twice in the past few weeks I’ve approached a rotary and the car in front of me came to a complete stop, even though the circle was free of other cars. In each case, the driver apparently had never encountered a rotary before and was completely baffled by this mysterious circular section of highway. It seemed as if they were waiting for a light to turn green — which would be a long wait, since there are no lights at a rotary. Either that, or the drivers thought the Yield sign meant the same thing as a Stop sign. (To be fair, I usually treat Stop signs as Yield signs.)
In both cases, it was clear to me the drivers were a bit confused and apprehensive. So, I attempted to put them at ease by offering a cheery Connecticut greeting: I blasted my car horn with my right hand and stuck my left arm out the window and waved it frantically, communicating the friendly message, “Move your butt, ya bozo!!” (Or in Britain it would mean, “Move your bum, you bloody twit!!”)

Later I was surprised to discover the State of Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles website has an entire page, with multiple links, devoted to the history of roundabouts. They fell into disfavor in recent decades, mostly because of negative experiences with the ones built in the first half of the 20th century, especially the notorious “Cape Cod Rotaries.” This is because they were large-diameter circles with multiple lanes, and cars would enter and exit at high speeds. Accidents were common, and some drivers, once entering the rotary, would find it almost impossible to exit. Some would just continue around and around for hours until they ran out of gas, and then wait for a tow truck thankfully to drag them off the rotary.
However, rotaries have become popular again because the design has been drastically improved. I’ll bet you didn’t know there was any designing involved, beyond a DOT draftsman locating his protractor and making a circle on a highway drawing. The new and improved design makes the rotary diameter much smaller. Vehicles are forced to enter and exit at low speeds, which make the circles much less dangerous.

So, in my opinion, roundabouts are my cup of tea — as long as the bloody twit in front of me keeps his bum moving. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Was Jesus Really a Drunkard and Glutton?

During His earthly ministry, Jesus was accused by the religious authorities of being a drunkard and a glutton. Wow, that’s a pretty serious charge. Why do you think they called Him that? Well, there are a few possibilities. Maybe Jesus did eat and drink too much. Maybe he liked to book those Carnival Cruise vacations with the open bars and extravagant buffets. 

No, that’s probably not right since Jesus wasn’t a retiree from New York. 
Maybe there were many more occasions than those recorded in Scripture when Jesus changed water into wine and multiplied loaves and fishes. So, possibly whenever he showed up for dinner it turned into a rollicking good time, and Jesus became known as the “party dude.”

Hmm, that’s probably not correct either. 

Maybe the reason Jesus was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton was because He spent a lot of time ministering to the outcasts of society, the people who were regularly ridiculed by “decent” folks. You know who the decent folks are, right? They’re the ones who always play by the rules — and proudly let everyone know they do.

Maybe it was a case of “guilt by association.” Jesus spent a lot of time with the outcasts of society, and the snooty people assumed He was one of them, just another Skid Row bum.
Actually, Jesus WAS one of them. No, not in the sense that He really was a drunkard and a Skid Row bum, but in the sense that He was a fellow human being. That’s the whole point of the Incarnation.

When’s the last time you stopped and really thought about what we as Christians believe? We believe the eternal, supernatural, all-powerful, all-knowing God who created the entire universe out of nothing decided to become a human being. This is simply stunning. 

Imagine that the CEO of a major corporation decided to go down to the basement and help the cleaning crew scrub toilets. Imagine that a famous rock star decided to hang around after a concert and help the roadies load equipment onto the truck. And in both of these imaginary cases, the helpful actions are done in secret. There is no PR benefit here.

Well, when the Almighty Creator of the Universe decided to become a man, it was a zillion times more startling and demeaning than anything the corporate CEO or rock star ever could do. If a business titan or famous celebrity humbled himself to work with the minimum wage staff, that indeed would be going from the top to the bottom, but still within the parameters of human activity.
When God decided to take on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, it was a complete transformation in essence. The eternal, supernatural God became a finite, weak human. The Incarnation was the most humble act in all of history. No, that doesn’t even begin to describe it. It was the most humiliating act in all of history.

As we know, people of other faiths do not believe that Jesus is divine. In most cases, it’s not that they can’t accept that Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead. Instead, the main reason they don’t believe Jesus is God is because in their minds it’s the most embarrassing and degrading thing the Almighty Creator could do. The idea of God lowering Himself to become human is sacreligious; it’s the most insulting thing you could say about the Creator.

However, it really happened. And there’s only one explanation of why the eternal, supernatural Creator lowered Himself to become a man: love. The love God has for us, His precious children, far outweighs all the insults to His dignity. 
I’ve heard that some theologians speculate that the main reason Satan left Heaven, where he had been a powerful angel, was because he was thoroughly disgusted when he heard God’s plans for the Incarnation. “Become one of those lowly human worms?! That’s below your dignity!” Well, who knows if this story about Satan is correct? But it certainly is below God’s dignity.

So, Jesus was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton. He spent time ministering to people who committed sins of the flesh (substance abuse, gluttony) and He was criticized by people who committed sins of the spirit (pride, anger).

Thankfully, the triune God loves us so much, He did the unthinkable: He lowered Himself to become one of us, and He wallowed in the mud with us. He did it simply because He loves us and wants to save us from our sin. What great news!

By the way, Carnival Cruises are OK. Just be careful with the open bars and buffets. You don’t want people to start calling you a drunkard and a glutton. 

Living in a 1970s TV Ad

Every summer I write at least a few times about my favorite sport, baseball. Recently, I also wrote two columns about hot dogs, essays which were prompted by a study from the University of Michigan that claimed every time people eat a hot dog, it reduces their lifespan by 36 minutes. Obviously, I was compelled to defend a sacred culinary delight from such outlandish and slanderous accusations.
A friend said to me, “Hey Bill, if only you liked apple pie and Chevrolet, you could be a 1970s car commercial.” 

I immediately got the reference, as would anyone who was alive and paying attention in the early- to mid-1970s. Chevrolet came out with a series of TV ads with a catchy jingle: “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.” If you remember those ads, I guarantee that musical snippet will be stuck in your head for the next six hours.
If you’re too young to remember, go to YouTube and look up the commercials. The ads were simple, cute, folksy and incredibly effective. The clever tune forever linked those four items with Americana. Baseball certainly is an American invention, but based on a British game. Hot dogs were originally developed in Germany. Apple pie is from England. And Chevrolet is an auto manufacturing firm founded by a guy from Switzerland. So, yeah, there really is no good reason those four things should be synonymous with American culture, but they are, all because of some clever advertising executives.

Back in the early 1970s, international oil embargos caused gasoline prices to skyrocket, which made big ol’ gas-guzzling vehicles suddenly way less attractive. At the same time, smaller imported cars, primarily from Japan, were becoming very popular here in the U.S. The upper management at Chevrolet faced a dilemma. Should they start making high quality cars, or should they hire a slick ad agency to create a campaign that will forever wrap their brand name in the American flag? If you ever owned a Chevy Vega, and watched the entire undercarriage rust away within two years, you already know which choice the highly-paid suits made.
I suspect another reason they went with the patriotic-themed ad campaign is the fact that people who could most easily afford to buy a new car were middle-aged. In the 1970s, this meant these folks had been young adults during World War II. Many of them either fought in the Pacific theater or had a loved one who fought and/or died there. Maybe the original rough draft commercial campaign was considered a bit too blunt: “You’re not gonna buy a car from the same people who bombed Pearl Harbor, are you?!” 
Anyway, I do in fact love apple pie, and I currently drive a Chevy Equinox. (To give credit where it’s due, the Equinox is awesome. After 125,000 miles there’s not a speck of rust on. The Bow Tie Boys certainly have improved their product immensely since the ‘70s.) So, as my friend pointed out, I could be a 1970s car commercial.
If that commercial was made today, the jingle probably would be: “Football, pizza, nacho chips, and Subaru.” Or maybe a version for city-dwelling millennials: “Skateboard, take-out, M&Ms, and Uber rides.”

When you look up the old commercials on YouTube, read some of the comments by viewers. Those commercials still evoke a lot of nostalgia and bring back some very fond memories.   

My preferences in food, entertainment, and transportation certainly are not based on TV ads from a half-century ago. But it’s kind of cool that I do indeed enjoy baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Maybe in a tiny way, the good ol’ days are still with us.