Wednesday, August 31, 2022

It’s Okay Not To Watch Baseball

When I quit drinking over 35 years ago, a very powerful thought really helped me a lot. The thought was, “It’s OK not to drink.” This seems pretty obvious, of course. But back when I was in my late-20s, I really believed that if people did not get drunk on a regular basis, they were missing out on a full and happy life. (Yeah, I know, crazy, isn’t it?)

If you knew some of the guys I hung out with during my school years and then after I started working, you’d understand. To us, the most important part of each day was happy hour after work, and the most important part of each week was partying until the wee hours of the morning on Friday and Saturday nights. But when I finally wrapped my soggy brain around the concept that “it’s OK not to drink,” it was as if a big weight was lifted off my shoulders.
This idea came to mind a few weeks ago, as I was driving home on Friday afternoon after a grueling week at work. I was tired, and I just wanted to have dinner and relax, but then I remembered that the Red Sox were playing the Yankees that evening. My first thought was, “Oh boy, it’s gonna be a long night.” Boston/New York games always drag on for almost four hours, and no matter what the outcome or how close the score, the games are emotionally draining.

I actually thought of that evening’s game as yet another chore on my never-ending to-do list. “I don’t want to concentrate for four hours tonight,” I thought. “I just want to unwind and go to bed early.”

Then, an old memory bubbled to the surface of my consciousness, after breaking loose from the 1980s sector of my brain. I suddenly blurted out, “Hey, wait a minute. It’s OK not to watch the Red Sox.” I paused for a moment, then whispered in surprise, “Wait. Did I just say that?” Then after another pause, I whispered again, this time in confusion, “Wait. Did I really MEAN that?”
I looked around quickly to see if anyone heard me, which wasn’t likely since I was alone in my car, slogging through rush hour traffic on I-84 with the windows rolled up, and some classic Bachman-Turner Overdrive tunes cranking on the car’s sound system. (That’s how I stay awake while driving when I’m tired.)

It was such a surprising idea, I would’ve been embarrassed if I thought someone heard me. But then I pondered it some more, and came to the stunning conclusion, “Yes, it IS okay not to watch the Red Sox.”

At this point, a different sector of my brain started offering counter arguments. “Hey pal, you’re paying that massive cable TV bill every month specifically to have access to all the Red Sox games.”

That’s true. Subscribing to Bombast cable company’s Hexfinity service is kind of like making a monthly car payment — on a brand new Mercedes, plus a boat or two. Paying through the nose for 200 uninteresting channels that I never watch, just so I have access to NESN (the Red Sox network) is not exactly a wise use of money. And the way the Sox are playing this year, it would make more sense to burn a stack of hundred-dollar bills on the gas grille.
As I mentioned earlier, the idea might be obvious — at least to people without addiction issues. But it is very much OK not to do things that end up causing you pain.  

What an amazing concept. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if I could just figure out a way to avoid I-84 rush hour traffic?

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Sunday Best, or Sunday Mess?

The summer is winding down. Labor Day weekend is just ahead. Schools are either back in session or about to begin. And it’s almost time when people in church will stop whispering, “Good heavens, look at the way they’re dressed!”

About 20 years ago, I wrote an article that examined the always emotional issue of: Does it matter how people dress for Mass? 
There are two sides to this debate. One side is the “You bet it matters because people need to show some reverence in God’s house” point of view. The other side is the “The only thing that matters is that people are at Mass, and besides, God doesn’t care how we dress” point of view.

There are some good arguments for both views. On the one hand, if we truly believe that Mass is where human beings draw closest to our Almighty Creator, where Jesus Christ Himself becomes truly present in the Eucharist — body, blood, soul, and divinity — then Mass is an extremely important and reverent event. It’s kind of insulting if people dress exactly the same way they do for mundane activities, such as mowing the lawn, stopping by the convenience store to buy cigarettes, or going to bed. (I’m not sure why, but I’ve noticed recently that pajama pants and slippers have become a fairly common way to dress outside of the house. Maybe for some folks, sweatpants and sneakers are just too formal.)

On the other hand, there are some people who can’t afford fine clothing, and they come to church wearing the only clothes they own. Other people may have health problems and are barely able to get out of bed and get to Mass on time, and so they show up with pajama pants and slippers. Still others may have just gotten off work, or have to go to work right after Mass, and so are unable to wear what others would describe as their “Sunday best.”
The primary point is that we don’t know the circumstances and struggles of other folks, so we shouldn’t judge the way they dress for Mass. We simply should be happy they are at Mass, since so many people have stopped going to Mass in recent years.

That was the main gist of my article 20 years ago. I laid out the arguments for the two points of view, and acknowledged that some folks have difficult circumstances and we shouldn’t judge if they dress the same way for Mass as they do for a quick trip to the 7-11 store. But my conclusion definitely leaned more toward the “Would it kill you to show some reverence?” side of the issue.

Back when I wrote that article, Mass attendance was starting to drop a bit, and many people were beginning to question whether church attendance really mattered. Looking back from today’s perspective, all I can say is, “Boy, those were the good ol’ days!”

In the wake of the COVID shutdown, Mass attendance has not “dropped a bit.” It has fallen off a cliff. Many people who got into the habit of not going to Mass at the height of the pandemic have not returned. I’m not exactly sure about their thought processes here. Did they lose their faith completely? Did they convince themselves that God doesn’t really care whether they show up? Or did they just lose their momentum and can’t seem to get back in the habit of going to Mass each week?
There’s no doubt in my mind that quibbling over how people are dressed at Mass is silly. At this moment in history it is a million times more important that people GO to Mass rather than what they wear. I would be thrilled if we had churches overflowing with people all wearing pajamas and slippers. I might not join in, but in solidarity, I definitely would break out some sweatpants and sneakers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Prayer is Powerful – Especially When You’re Freaking Out

Did you ever notice how much more powerful your prayer life is when you’re desperate? Thankfully, I’ve never had to experience being under enemy fire during a war, but I understand where that old saying comes from: “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

By the way, I’m not sure the fear of getting killed in battle turns atheists into religious believers. Many people have pointed out, “‘No atheists in foxholes’ is not an argument against atheism, it’s an argument against war.” Good point. I suppose a better way to phrase it might be: “There are no luke-warm believers in foxholes.” 
I figure if a person has no belief in God, being terrified won’t make him suddenly convert. However, if a person does believe in God, but hasn’t given much thought to religious faith in quite a while, then being in fear for his life just might put “sincere and fervent prayer” at the top of his to-do list.

I’m pretty sure this is true, and I’ve never really been in fear for my life. Well, there was one time when I was driving on Interstate-91, and a car coming in the other direction suddenly swerved across the grassy median divider into oncoming traffic, and for a few moments it was heading right at me. I slammed on my brakes, which allowed the out-of-control car to cut in front of me. That car finally came to a stop against the guardrail without hitting anyone. The whole thing happened so fast, the adrenaline surge didn’t make my hands start shaking until about five seconds after I was in the clear. 

At that point, I did offer up some heartfelt prayers of thanksgiving. But during the couple of seconds when I thought my life was about to end, I frankly did not have time to take inventory of my level of spirituality.

Anyway, I was reminded recently that prayer gets much more powerful and intense when you are desperate. What I experienced wasn't anything life threatening, but it was stressful. It would take all day to explain the details, so let me summarize by saying it was very important for me to locate a particular legal document from some proceedings that occurred about four years ago. 

I looked everywhere in our home, but unsuccessfully. I realized the last place the document could be (not counting accidentally thrown away when we moved last year) was in the storage unit we’re renting on the other side of town. So, on a sweltering summer evening, I went inside an even more sweltering storage room, and I started digging through dozens of large plastic bins (and countless dozens of spiders). That’s when I started praying … a lot.
“Jesus, please, I’m begging you, help me find that document!” I pleaded. With each bin that turned up empty, my anxiety level increased and my prayers became more intense. I was praying out loud with childlike abandon, and after a while I felt God’s presence in that hot storage unit. It seemed He was urging me to relax, and although I wasn’t relaxing all that much, I was becoming more accepting of the distinct possibility that I had accidentally thrown out the document, and I would just have to deal with a delay and extra legal expenses.

And then, after some more loud and passionate prayers, and with only a few more bins left to examine, there it was! The document I so desperately sought! I was almost giddy, and I offered up joyful prayers of thanksgiving. (My joy was tempered a bit when I noticed I had about 14 big bins to repack and re-stack before I could leave, and it wasn’t getting any cooler in that sweat box.)

As I was driving home, I realized that I hadn’t prayed that fervently in months, probably since the time I went on retreat last winter. I really wish I could pray that intensely when things are going fine and I'm not under stress.

Wouldn’t it be great to have such a powerful prayer life that your prayers are passionate and the Lord’s presence is real, even when there’s nothing to worry about?

I think I’ll write a book about it, called, “The Spider-filled Storage Unit Prayer Handbook.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Can You Break Up with Your Phone?

Last week I discussed the fact that many people are now addicted to their smartphones. I have a vivid memory of getting my first smartphone about 12 years ago. Well, the phone was a BlackBerry, so it wasn’t all that smart compared to today’s iPhones and Samsungs. But it was a whole lot fancier than the good ol’ flip phones I had been using during the previous decades. When it was explained to me that I could receive and send emails on my new kinda-smart phone, at any time of day regardless of whether I was in the office or not, I exclaimed, “This is the greatest thing ever!”
Then, no more than a week later, after receiving some emails that demanded a prompt reply — even though I was in bed at night, or in the bathroom, or taking a walk during lunchtime — I exclaimed, “This is the worst thing ever!”

It’s been all downhill since then, as my phones have been getting smarter and smarter, and I’ve been getting dumber and dumber. Like countless folks these days, I have become addicted to my smartphone. But unlike countless folks these days, at least I recognize this fact and admit it.

Last week I mentioned that I recently read an interesting book titled How to Break Up with Your Phone, by Catherine Price. She describes the devices this way: “Smartphones engage in disruptive behaviors that have traditionally been performed only by extremely annoying people.”

Price lays out a 30-day plan to break free from all the bad habits we’ve developed with smartphones. I found it to be a very interesting book, although it was ironic that I purchased her book as a Kindle download and read it on my phone. Yes, that’s right: I read about how addictive smartphones are by constantly staring at my smartphone.

In many ways, Price’s book was not surprising. It chronicled how people are on their phones all day long and feel severe anxiety if separated from their phones for even a few minutes. What was very eye-opening was the description of how tech firms, especially social media companies, purposely make their products disruptive and distracting. As Price notes: “Focus isn’t profitable. Distraction is.” Turns out I wasn’t far off-base when I joked that Facebook was invented by Satan. 
People who are addicted to smartphones are slowly re-wiring their brains, and not in a good way. Price explains, “Spending hours a day on our phones has negative effects on our attention spans, memories, creativity, and stress levels.” 

One of the suggestions in the book is to regularly avoid all internet-connected screens for a 24-hour period. Price calls this a “Digital Sabbath,” which made me laugh because I have a friend in Israel named Alan who faithfully observes the Jewish Sabbath. From sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday, Alan and his family disconnect from all electronics. I mentioned this book to him and he replied, “The break from technology for one full day is something I don’t think I could live without anymore.”

I need to use my smartphone for work and to keep in touch with my family. I can’t “break up” with it completely, but going forward I think we should just be friends. I’m going to try not to look at my phone in the middle of conversations with people, a rude behavior known as “phubbing,” which is a contraction for “phone snubbing.”

Catherine Price also advises not to use a smartphone while eating a meal or using the bathroom. Hmm, I can probably stop looking at my phone at dinner, but it will be difficult to give up one of my favorite parts of the day: the morning throne news round-up. 

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Martha, Martha, Gimme the News

A few weeks ago, the gospel reading at Mass was the memorable “Martha, Martha” incident. Jesus visited a town, and went to the home of Martha, who had a sister named Mary. When Jesus came into the house and started teaching, Mary sat on the floor right by Jesus' feet and listened with rapt attention.

Meanwhile, Martha was working hard in the kitchen preparing food for the visitors. Exasperated, she went to Jesus and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”
Way back in the 1980s, when I stopped being an atheist and became a Christian, I started paying attention to the readings at Mass for the first time. Even though my parents took me to Mass every Sunday while I was growing up, I worked very hard each week to force myself not to listen to whatever was being said in church. So, in my late 20s, after realizing that God is real and the Bible is indeed His inspired Word, I started listening to the readings at Mass a lot like Mary did: with rapt attention.

I vividly remember the first time I was really paying attention to this “Martha, Martha” story. Right at the moment when Martha said to Jesus, “Tell her to help me,” I fully expected Jesus to say something like, “That’s a good point, Martha. Hey Mary, please give your sister a hand. Then after we’ve eaten, you can come back here and I’ll teach some more, OK?”

I mean, that seemed to me to be the Christian thing to do, right? Instead of having one person do all the work while everyone else sat around doing nothing, giving Martha a little help with the chores was the obvious course of action.

So, imagine my surprise when the reading continued, and Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

(By the way, whenever I think, hear, or say, “Martha, Martha,” in the back of my brain I can hear that old Robert Palmer song “Bad Case of Loving You.” The lyrics of the chorus are: “Doctor Doctor, gimme the news / I got a bad case of lovin' you / No pill's gonna cure my ill / I got a bad case of lovin' you.” Except when I hear it in my head, it goes like this: “Martha, Martha, gimme the news / You got a bad case of servin’ blues.” I’m not sure why that is, or more importantly, why I shared that with you. But that’s what I hear.)
Anyway, the very first time I heard this gospel reading at Mass, I was stunned. My mouth hung open, and I silently said to myself, “Wait. Did I hear that right?!”

I was really shocked that Jesus told Martha, in effect, to stop whining and leave Mary alone. In my mind then (and now, too, to be honest), I thought Martha had a really good point and that Mary was being somewhat of a slacker.

After thinking about it some more, and reading some Bible commentaries, I now understand that listening to life-changing proclamations from the incarnate Son of God is much more important than making some baloney sandwiches for a Thursday lunch.

But still, couldn’t Jesus have told Martha to sit down next to Mary and listen, and order Peter and the other apostles to go into the kitchen and finish making lunch?
Or couldn’t Jesus have announced that He’ll resume the lecture after lunch, and then go into the kitchen Himself and help Martha with the serving?

There are a lot of different ways this story could’ve played out that are better, at least in my mind, than what actually happened. Please understand, I’m not usually in the habit of telling Jesus that He should’ve done things differently. But in this case…well, just sayin’.

I’m glad Martha did not say what I would’ve said if I was in her place, which is: “OK, fine. I’ll sit here and listen, too. All y’all can feed yourselves! The phone’s over there, and Pizza Hut delivers!”

Time to Play the Smartphone Game

My wife and I have a new game we play to pass the time while watching a boring baseball game. (By the way, some people think ALL baseball games are boring. To be honest, the pace of play has gotten so slow in recent years, I’m having a harder and harder time refuting that claim.)

Whenever the TV shows a close-up of one of the players standing near the box seats by the dugout, we try to find at least one spectator who is not looking down at his or her smartphone. Go ahead and try it out. When the camera shows six or so fans in the background, invariably they all are staring at their phones. 
Sometimes it takes us a few innings before we finally see someone. “Hey look!” I’ll yell. “That guy in the green hat is actually looking out at the field. I saw him first! So, you have to go in the kitchen and fill up the pretzel bowl!”

Other times my wife will call out, “I see one! That lady in the white top is the only one watching the game. You have to go in the kitchen and make some tea.”

Then I’ll say, “No, that doesn’t count. I wasn’t looking at the TV.” I make this statement with all sincerity, as if looking down at my smartphone on the couch suspends our little game, rather than being evidence of why we play the game in the first place: the world has become addicted to smartphones.

This situation raises a very important question: Why do women refer to their shirts as “tops”? I mean, c’mon, that makes no sense. It’s a shirt, so call it a shirt.
No, wait. I’m sorry. The important question here is: why do people cough up literally multiple hundreds of dollars to buy box seat tickets for a major league baseball game and then spend 90% of the time looking down at their phones?

In many ways, I get it. Baseball can be really boring at times. But still, when you see a camera shot of a player in the on-deck circle, and all seven spectators in the background are staring down at their phones, something is wrong.

Some people might claim that what is wrong is baseball. The game is boring, with way too much dead time between pitches and very little exciting moments. People who claim this, of course, don’t know what they’re talking about. Baseball is not the problem. 

(Don’t get me wrong. Baseball has problems, but it’s kind of like when I was a kid. Back then it was OK for me to make fun of my younger brother, but if someone outside the family picked on him, I’d come to my baby bro’s defense in a heartbeat. In the same way, only true baseball fans are allowed to criticize baseball. All the whiners who don’t know Tom Seaver from Tom Brokaw need to zip it.)

No, the real problem is that smartphones are too awesome. Think about it: there is an entire universe of information, videos, and personal connections inside that little flat rectangle of glass and aluminum that fits so nicely into our back pockets. That’s why they are so addicting.
In last week’s column about “digital amnesia,” I mentioned a book by Catherine Price called How to Break Up with Your Phone. Well, I recently downloaded the book and just finished reading it using the Kindle app — on my phone. (Irony detectors are beeping like crazy right now.)

Next week, I’ll discuss what I learned from Price’s terrific book. In the meantime, keep an eye on the ballgame, or else you might have to go make some tea.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

A Green Light for Booze and Betting?

Years ago, an Evangelical Christian friend said to me, “You Catholics are so lucky. You get to drink alcohol and gamble.” 

I asked him to explain, and he told me in his church they teach that drinking alcohol is always a sin, even the tiniest amount. They even insist that at the wedding feast at Cana, described in the Bible, Jesus turned water into grape juice. He also said that any form of gambling is a sin — such as lottery tickets or the Friday night bingo games that used to be so popular at Catholic parishes.
The odd thing was, my friend didn’t say this to criticize Catholics for being sinful. He said it with a touch of envy. I asked him why he didn’t just have a beer once in a while. He said it would cause too much trouble with his family and fellow church members.

That reminds me of an old joke: “Jews don’t recognize Jesus, Protestants don’t recognize the Pope, and Baptists don’t recognize each other in the liquor store.”

My friend also told me that it wasn’t too long ago that his church denomination finally allowed members to go dancing and watch movies. Wow.

Now, obviously when we Catholics say that drinking is not sinful, it doesn’t mean we have a green light to abuse alcohol. And if it’s okay to buy lotto tickets or enjoy a night at the casino, we can’t blow the rent money at the blackjack table.

Moderation is the key. If we abuse alcohol or gambling, and cause harm to our families, then it definitely is a sin. And the sad thing is, substance abuse and gambling addictions have really inflicted horrible damage to a lot of people’s lives, especially children.
I’ve been thinking about this topic lately, because all I see on TV these days are ads for sports betting services. And as we know, Connecticut soon will be opening recreational marijuana retail stores all over the place, just like they have in Massachusetts, Colorado, and a bunch of other states.

I’m usually a “live and let live,” libertarian kind of guy. I think people should have as much freedom as possible, as long as we don’t reach the point where society devolves into chaos. (On the other hand, when I watch the news on TV at night, I often think: “Oh boy, we’ve already reached that point!)

Even though Catholicism has a reputation for being super strict regarding personal morality and behavior, when it comes to things like drinking and gambling, we’re actually kind of libertarian. People can enjoy themselves, as long as they don’t hurt others, especially their loved ones.

When I compare my old friend’s fundamentalist church’s view to our Catholic view on alcohol and gambling, I usually conclude that we are more commonsensical. We focus on important things, like Church doctrines, and don’t sweat the minor things. After all, imposing a million rules and regulations only causes people to live hypocritical lives — and to pretend they don’t recognize a fellow church member when they bump into each other at the liquor store.

However, at other times I look around at our instant-gratification culture, and read about all the problems they’re now having in states that legalized marijuana a few years ago, and I think: you know, we really need to send out an army of grumpy nuns in full habit to whack people with wooden rulers whenever they step out of line.

Well, of course, that’s not the solution. I guess we just have to rely on people’s common sense so they don’t take advantage of their freedom and abuse things like alcohol and gambling. Yeah, I just thought the same thing you did: Heaven help us! 

Friday, August 5, 2022

Are Smartphones Ruining Our Memory?

I read an interesting article the other day. The headline was, “Is your smartphone ruining your memory?” The piece discussed a new phenomenon called “digital amnesia.” 

What a bunch of nonsense. I use my smartphone all the time and there’s nothing wrong with my memory.

So, anyway, I read an interesting article the other day. The headline was, “Is your smartphone ruining your memory?”  
Um, wait a minute. OK, maybe there is something to it after all.
Researchers are studying the impact digital media has on our brains. (I think we already know the impact Facebook and Twitter have on our souls, and it ain’t good.) 

There are two main aspects of how the digital revolution is affecting our brains. First, we now are outsourcing a significant portion of our memories to smart devices. We no longer have to remember things such as appointments and phone numbers, since our devices keep track of that information and give us notifications when an event is due. Yes, in the prehistoric, pre-smartphone days (which were slightly more than a decade ago), we often wrote things down on calendars or notebooks. But the very act of writing something down with a pen or pencil would imprint that information in our brains much more effectively than hitting the “accept” button when you get an email invitation to a meeting and then trust that your digital devices will remind you.

Professor Oliver Hardt, who studies neurobiology at McGill University, is concerned about our reliance on GPS devices nowadays. “We can predict that prolonged use of GPS likely will reduce grey matter density in the hippocampus,” he explains. “Reduced grey matter density in this brain area goes along with a variety of symptoms, such as increased risk for depression…and certain forms of dementia.”

Apparently, when we follow GPS directions (“In a quarter mile, turn right onto Commerce Street”), we are not exercising our brains very much. “Map reading is hard,” Professor Hardt points out, “and that’s why we give it away to devices so easily. But hard things are good for you, because they engage cognitive processes and brain structures.” 
In other words, locating Commerce Street on a map, and envisioning in our heads where it is in relation to where we are at the moment, and then figuring out the best route to get there, is like a 60-minute aerobic workout for our brains. While following GPS instructions is like our brains sitting on the couch scarfing down Cheeze Doodles and a 2-liter bottle of Dr. Pepper. 
The other aspect of digital media that affects our memories is the fact that we are constantly being interrupted, to the point that we rarely think about one thing for an extended period of time. (“Extended period of time” being defined as “more than four seconds.”)

Catherine Price is a science writer and the author of the book How to Break Up With Your Phone. She is worried that people are perpetually distracted by their phones, a term called “Continual partial attention.” She says, “One of the things that impedes our brain’s ability to transfer memories from short- to long-term storage is distraction.” In other words, if we’re juggling five different sources of information all at the same time (such as email, text messages, Facebook, Instagram, and Netflix), we’re not absorbing any of it.
Before I finish, I just want to mention that I read an interesting article the other day. The headline was, “Is your smartphone ruining your memory?”

However, I, uh, I can’t remember what the article said because I was checking email and listening to music with my earbuds while reading it. But I’m sure it was interesting. Or whatever. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Sermon on the Mount Is Shocking

The epic speech given by Jesus, known as the “Sermon on the Mount,” is considered by many theologians as the blueprint for how to live the Christian life. The sermon is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5, 6, and 7.

However, if the Sermon is such a good blueprint, how come hardly anyone even tries to live up to it? Let’s take a look.

The first part of the Sermon on the Mount is the famous series of statements called The Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit….Blessed are those who mourn….Blessed are the meek” etc., etc. Everyone wants to be “blessed,” which is defined as being happy and fulfilled and in a proper relationship with God. But in our modern culture, who really wants to mourn and be meek? Someone might say, “Being a sad wimp is no way to succeed in this competitive world!” 
Then there is the ninth and final beatitude: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.”

“Wait a minute, pal,” our same friend might offer, “Are you saying if I get persecuted and have people lie about me, then I’ll be blessed? No thanks. I already get enough of that on Facebook and Twitter!”

If you think the Beatitudes are difficult to embrace, take a gander at some of the other teachings Jesus proclaimed in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Here are a couple of very counter-cultural statements by the Lord: “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” and, “Whoever divorces his wife…causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

“Tell me you’re joking, right?” our friend says, this time through clenched teeth. “This is the modern world, for crying out loud! A little porn never hurt anyone. And have you seen Trixie in Customer Service? Whoa, she is hot! Also, who cares if someone gets divorced and remarried a couple of times? What are you supposed to do, spend your whole life with one woman after you fall in love with someone else? Sheesh!”

Here are a couple more teachings by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well,” and, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
“OK, now I know you’re living in La-la Land,” our friend exclaims. “I get it that we’re supposed to be peaceful and not harm innocent people. But you’re saying if someone hauls off and hits me in the face, I’m NOT supposed to defend myself? And then I’m supposed to love those jerks who keep posting nasty things about me on social media? No way, bud. I hate ‘em. And I hope they all get run over by a bus!”

Hmm, even if our fictitious friend here is a bit of an exaggeration, I think you can see why the Sermon on the Mount is so out of touch with modern sensibilities. One final teaching from the end of the Sermon on the Mount might be the most stunning of all. In chapter 7, verse 21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven.”

Jesus is saying here that even if someone sincerely proclaims, “Jesus is Lord,” and goes to church once in a while, it may not be good enough to get to Heaven. A couple of verses later, Jesus explains, “I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’”

These might be the most frightening words in the whole Bible. Even if we say, “Jesus is Lord,” we still could be in big trouble if we don’t follow His blueprint for discipleship: The Sermon on the Mount. But nobody follows the Sermon on the Mount! Does this mean we’re all doomed?

Nope. We certainly deserve to be doomed, but Jesus’ love and mercy are more powerful than our sin. The key is when Jesus said, “I never knew you.” We have to KNOW the Lord, not just know ABOUT Him. 

A good first step would be to acknowledge that the Sermon on the Mount is indeed a wonderful blueprint for the Christian life, despite being so out of step with our modern world. Then we should try to incorporate a couple of Jesus’ statements in the Sermon into our lives. At least we’ll be heading in the right direction. It’s worth a shot, since there’s nothing better than Jesus telling us that we are “blessed.”