Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Time for Believers to be Happy

You’ve all heard the old stereotype about religious church-going people, right? Faithful folks are depicted as dour and sour, waving a Bible in one hand and wagging a finger with the other hand. The stereotype is that people of faith spend their time condemning non-religious people, and often proclaiming that they’re all going to hell in a handbasket. The church-goers supposedly are angry and frustrated, and as H.L. Mencken noted, they have “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

Unfortunately, there have been more than enough judgmental and grim religious people over the years to keep this old stereotype alive. We all probably can think of some relatives who constantly complained about the people who were drinking and carousing and living in sin. It’s almost as if Aunt Gertrude or Uncle Caleb were secretly jealous that other people were having so much carefree fun.
However, as our culture has evolved during the last few decades, something very interesting has occurred. Nowadays, the people who are the most dour and sour, judgmental and grim, are the secular non-believers who never go to church.

If you don’t believe me, just watch the news. Now, please be aware, the media always portrays religious people in a bad light. If you watch TV, you certainly will see plenty of church folks depicted as ignorant and intolerant yahoos. That just goes with the territory. But look closely. These days, which group of people is REALLY angry? Who is vandalizing churches and pregnancy care centers? Who is screaming and throwing temper tantrums in front of the Supreme Court building? Who is smashing windows and splashing paint on priceless artwork? Who is blocking traffic and trying to get someone fired for using the wrong pronouns? It is none other than the so-called liberated secular people. It’s the folks who claim to have broken free from the repressive shackles of organized religion, which makes them the epitome of peace and tolerance. 

Except…. they don’t seem all that peaceful and tolerant these days. In fact, I’d say the old stereotype about moralizing nags now applies to them way more than it applies to church-going folks.

So, at this crossroads in history, it is more important than ever that people of faith show the world that trusting in God really fills a person with joy and contentment, hope and love. 
We’ve been commanded by the Lord Himself to share the Gospel message. Sometimes, the best way to do that is to live a joyful life, confident in the knowledge that God is in charge, and that “all things work for good for those who love the Lord.”

When our daily lives exude peace and forgiveness, despite all the chaos and anger in our modern world, people will become curious. They’ll wonder why we’re so calm in the midst of a cultural storm. This gives us the perfect opportunity to say, “It’s my faith in God. He comforts me.”

We also need to follow another important teaching from Jesus. The Lord said, “Pray for those who persecute you.” It’s impossible to be loving and patient with someone who is verbally – or nowadays, physically – attacking you. That is, it’s impossible without supernatural assistance. But if we remember that every single person – even the purple-haired harridan throwing a brick through a church window – has been created by God and is loved very much by Him, we can genuinely care for that person’s troubled soul. We can then sincerely pray for God Almighty to bless and transform that person.

Things have changed a full 180 degrees in the past couple of generations. It is now the angry secularists who have “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

Therefore, it’s our duty to demonstrate that faith in God can transform a person’s life. We need to show the world that the old stereotype has flip-flopped. It is now believers in the Lord who are having carefree fun. 

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Jury Duty: The Saga Concludes

Well, I completed my jury duty obligation. It was very interesting, and it’s odd to use the word “interesting” to describe something that was more boring than watching grass grow. The interesting aspect was seeing the inner workings of a big courthouse and knowing that we were a part of something very important. But what it boiled down to for me was spending 7-1/2 hours just sitting and waiting, until I finally was brought into a courtroom and asked a few questions, which took about three minutes.

During the day, various courthouse employees repeatedly told us, “Thank you for your service.” I had to check to see if I didn’t accidentally put on a military uniform that morning rather than my usual golf shirt and khakis. 
Speaking of clothing, the instructions I was sent beforehand clearly said no tee shirts and no shorts. Oh great, that means I had to go commando for jury duty! And without boxer shorts, I was pretty chafed by 2 pm.

The festivities finally began about 45 minutes after we were supposed to arrive – or 90 minutes after I arrived. What can I say? I hate to be late, and traffic into Hartford was surprisingly light that morning.

All the prospective jurors gathered on the 4th floor of the courthouse and then someone in a nice suit and tie gave us a little lecture. Then we saw two different videos. Then another person, this time an actual judge, gave us another lecture – and, of course, thanked us for our service. 

At about 11 am, all 35 prospective jurors were escorted downstairs to an empty courtroom. As we entered the room, I noticed that every single one of us looked like a defendant in a trial we knew we were going to lose. We were that grim. I’ve seen happier looking people in the waiting room of an endodontist’s office. (That’s a root canal doctor, by the way, which means no one in that waiting room was giggling with joy.)
I could tell that every one of us, whether we were religious or not, was praying fervently that we would not be chosen to serve on a trial. The state’s judicial website said that 90-percent of people who get summoned to jury duty complete their obligation in one day. But each of the 35 people in that room sure seemed convinced that he or she was going to be in the 10-percent who would get assigned to Connecticut’s version of the O.J. trial. That is, we’d be selected to serve on a jury for a long, drawn out trial, which would completely disrupt our lives, not to mention our financial security, for the next three or four months. Well, I can’t really say for sure if everyone was as fatalistic as I was, but they all looked very sullen and frustrated. 

Even though our ages ranged from the 20s to the 70s, we all had one thing in common (besides being glum). We each had a smartphone, which we stared at incessantly for hour after hour. (What did prospective jurors do before smartphones, other than go insane with boredom?)

Finally, after 7-1/2 hours, they called my name and I was escorted into a different courtroom, which had a judge, a bunch of lawyers, and a defendant charged with murder. They asked me some questions, which I answered truthfully. Then the judge thanked me for my service and dismissed me.
I suspect I wasn’t chosen because the defense attorney didn’t like the scowl on my face. But I wasn’t biased against his client. It was the chafing. 

When I left, I celebrated my freedom by going straight to a pharmacy and buying some Gold Bond. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Pride Goes Before an iPad Fall

Recently, I was reading the Sermon on the Mount in my Bible. I came to these words by Jesus: “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth….But store up treasure in heaven….For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matt 6:19-21).

Ooh, that passage brought back some painful memories. Many years ago, I was the leader of a Bible study in my parish. Our group was working through Matthew’s gospel, and when we came to the Sermon on the Mount, I prepared some discussion questions on this topic of materialism and the fact that so many people nowadays are “possessed by their possessions.” This is a situation that Jesus clearly warned against. 
Here are a few of the questions I prepared: Did Jesus mean we must take a vow of poverty and never own a single thing? Did Jesus mean all rich people are greedy and evil? What is the main message here for people like us, who live in a prosperous, materialistic culture?

Then I came up with a terrific summary of this section of the Sermon on the Mount: the test for whether our hearts are devoted to our possessions or to the Lord, is how we react if we lose something valuable. What if we lost prized possessions, such as our car or our shoe collection, our pension fund or even our home? Would we be absolutely devastated and bitter? Or would we trust that God will get us through the crisis and provide our daily bread? Would we be thankful for the things we still had, such as our family and friends and faith, and still have some joy in our lives?

I must admit I felt kind of proud of myself. Oh yeah, that’s a good summary, I thought. The people at the Bible Study surely will be impressed. Then I pondered what it might be like if I lost something very valuable, such as my car or my job or our home. Well, it would be kind of devastating, no doubt, but I felt pretty certain if something like that ever happened, I would trust in Jesus’ words, and be thankful for what I still had, and move on with my life with joy, knowing God would provide. Yes, I had convinced myself that I was a regular Mother Teresa, completely detached from materialism and the perfect embodiment of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.
You know that old verse from Proverbs, “Pride goes before a fall”? Well, do yourself a big favor: don’t ever convince yourself that you’re a regular Mother Teresa.

The very next morning after I wrote down those Bible Study discussion questions and patted myself on the back for being so non-materialistic, I was reading the latest news on my iPad while eating breakfast. Suddenly, the iPad slipped from my hand and dropped to the tile floor with a sickening crunch. The glass screen was smashed.

I immediately moaned from the depth of my soul, “Noooooo! Not my iPad! It cost over 700 bucks! This is the worst thing ever!!”

I was truly heartbroken. Then our Bible Study class met, and I asked my discussion questions, and I offered my terrific summary, and the people in the class commented that I was so wise. And the whole time I felt like an idiot. I felt like such a hypocrite. I knew without a doubt I was still “possessed by my possessions,” and every one of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount was pricking my conscience and making me question all of my assumptions about modern life — which I think is exactly what Jesus intended.
Now, over a decade later, I still cringe when I read the Sermon on the Mount, remembering how foolish I felt when I reacted so hysterically about a busted iPad. 

Today, I would never react that way if I accidentally smashed my iPad. But before anyone pats me on the back, the main reason I would be more calm is because now, just to make sure, I own TWO iPads. So, maybe I still have quite a bit to learn from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

You’ve Got Another Think (or Thing) Coming

A few weeks ago, the topic of my column was one of my mom’s favorite expressions: “Don’t make a scene!” In that essay, I also mentioned another expression she often said: “You’ve got another think coming!”

After that essay appeared in the newspaper, a reader sent me an email explaining that the correct expression is, “You’ve got another thing coming.”
Another THING? Excuse me, but that is wrong. The correct word is THINK. Here’s an example of how it was used when I was a kid: I’m 10 years old, and right after dinner on a school night, I announce, “I think I’ll stay up and watch the Red Sox game on TV.”

In reply, my mom raises an eyebrow and says, “That’s what you think, huh? Well, you’ve got another think coming!” That was a far more colorful way of saying, “Bedtime on a school night is 8:30. Tomorrow morning we’ll tell you who won.”

Imagine if she replied, “You’ve got another thing coming.” 

That would have made no sense. Another thing? What kind of thing? A second dessert? A Carl Yastrzemski baseball card? A new shirt? Saying that I’ve got another THING coming would have put me in Christmas mode, even though it was baseball season. Everybody wants things, and if my mom said I had another thing coming, well, that would just make my imagination run wild with the possibilities.

The word “thing” makes sense in very few situations. One, for example, is when the UPS guy delivers a couple of packages and says, “Looks like your order got split up. You’ve got another thing coming. Probably tomorrow.”

You see? It’s very bland and matter-of-fact. 

However, when someone employs the “You’ve got another think coming” expression, the gloves are off on a serious power struggle. The person who makes that statement is not simply saying, “You are mistaken.” He or she is saying, “You’re not only wrong, you are so wrong that you have to change your whole way of THINKING about this topic.” Often there is a large dose of sarcasm and incredulity included.
If you are 10 years old and your mom hits you with “another think coming,” you definitely do not start speculating about an extra dessert or some unexpected gift. You immediately know you’re sunk. You may think to yourself, “I don’t wanna go to bed at 8:30,” but you also know exactly where you will be when the little hand is between the 8 and the 9, and the big hand is on the 6: under the covers with the lights out.

Just out of curiosity, I did a Google search about this, and I was flabbergasted to discover that many people insist that, “You’ve got another THING coming,” is a perfectly acceptable way of saying the other person is wrong. If these people think using THING is fine, they’ve got another think coming.
(By the way, I just noticed that every time I type the word “think,” the word processing software on my computer puts a squiggly blue line under it. When I click on it, it asks me if I meant to type “thing”? Sheesh! Even the computers get it wrong.)

When I first started typing about a half hour ago, I didn’t expect to write an entire column on this subject. I was planning to mention the “think/thing” thing, and then move on to something else. But now that I’m almost out of space, I’m concerned that when I send this essay in, the editor is going to reply, “Bill, if you think this mindless babbling qualifies as an official newspaper column, you’ve got another think coming!” 

And if he says “thing,” I’ll just cry. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Should This Guy Look for Another Job?

Imagine a man goes for a job interview at a large corporation. He explains to the interviewer that he’s very intelligent, hard-working and ambitious, and he wants to become a top executive with the company some day. Then he tells the interviewer that he doesn’t particularly like the company’s products, and he doesn’t think people ought to purchase them. But he definitely wants to be an important executive with the company.

If this ever happened, it would not be surprising if the interviewer said that anyone who does not believe the company’s products are good really should not be an employee there. That person should look for a job in a different industry.

I thought of this scenario a couple of weeks ago when World Youth Day was held in Lisbon, Portugal. Bishop Américo Aguiar, who was the coordinator and host of the event, had this to say about the international gathering of Catholic youth, which occurs approximately every three years: “We don’t want to convert the young people to Christ or to the Catholic Church or anything like that at all.”

Umm, I hope something got garbled in the translation, but when I read that quote, my first thought was: This fellow should look for a job in a different industry.
I guess you need a lot of advanced degrees in theology to conclude that you know more about spreading the Gospel than, say, Jesus. I mean, the Lord was pretty clear when He said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…[and] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20).

Jesus also said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

For 2,000 years, the number one mission of the Church has been to make disciples, that is, to convince people to convert to Christ. So, with that being the case, I’m really not sure what the bishop had in mind.

To be fair, Bishop Aguiar also said this about the event: “World Youth Day is an invitation to all the young people of the world to experience God.”  
Now, that’s certainly much better. That sounds like something an ordained clergyman should say. There are far too many people nowadays, regardless of age, who have not experienced God. We live in a very secular time in history, when people have convinced themselves they can live without God. But as St. Augustine said a long time ago, we all have a God-shaped hole in our heart, and nothing will satisfy us until we fill that hole with God. That makes sense, since God created us in His image. We are not complete until we enter into a loving relationship with Him.

I suspect the fact we live in such a secular age might be the reason the bishop in Lisbon made such a stunning statement about not wanting to convert people to Christ. Maybe he figured if he bluntly said the goal of World Youth Day is to preach the Gospel and make disciples, a lot of young people would decide not to attend.

However, you certainly can approach this in a low key manner without coming out and saying the exact opposite of the Church’s primary function. The bishop’s comment reminds me of another quote from Jesus: “Whoever denies me before others, I will deny him before my heavenly Father” (Matt 10:33).
From what I’ve read, it seems World Youth Day was a terrific event. I hope and pray that many young people did “experience God.” And I hope and pray that many of them, despite the bishop’s comment, did in fact “convert to Christ.” Who knows, maybe during World Youth Day even Bishop Aguiar converted to Christ. If not, he probably should look for a job in a different industry.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Beware of Lobbyists for ‘Big Dog’

Recently I heard on the news that it was National Mustard Day. Really? They’ve now got a national day for mustard? What’s next? I can’t wait for National Pickled Beets Day. (Out of curiosity, I just paused to do a Google search in case there actually is such a thing. I found information about National Beet Day, which is July 8th, and National Pickle Day on November 14th. However, there was nothing listed for National Pickled Beets Day, so somebody better get working on that.)

Anyway, the news story I saw for National Mustard Day prominently featured hot dogs, as in, “Enjoy National Mustard Day by putting it on your favorite hot dog!” That got me wondering if Mustard Day might actually be the creation of the hot dog industry. Oh, and don’t criticize my use of the word “industry.” Hot dogs are right up there with, for example, the automobile industry and the pharmaceutical industry. Lobbyists for “Big Dog” wield a lot of power and influence in Washington. 
We already have a National Hot Dog Day, which is on the third Wednesday of July each year. And as we all know, Big Dog has convinced people that hot dog season runs from Memorial Day until Labor Day. We used to call that “summer,” but the lobbyists have influenced politicians and media moguls to change our perception of the four seasons. It’s now: Fall, Winter, Spring, and Hot Dog. (A revival of “Camelot” has Sir Lancelot singing, “If ever I would leave you / It wouldn’t be in Hog Dogggg / Seeing you in Hot Dog / I never would go!” Robert Goulet must be rolling over in his grave.)

Here are other items that are commonly put on hot dogs, according to yet another Google search: sauerkraut, onions, cheese, chili, ketchup, and mayonnaise. OK, let’s be honest. Ketchup is great on many things, especially French fries. And mayonnaise is great on many things, especially tuna sandwiches. But neither of those condiments belong anywhere near a hot dog. That’s just wrong. I know that as Americans, we cherish our freedom and people should be allowed to garnish their hot dogs with whatever they want. However, putting either ketchup or mayonnaise on a hot dog is so gross, a person’s citizenship should be revoked, or at least questioned. If you’re one of those icky people who actually puts ketchup or mayonnaise on hot dogs, don’t bother writing to me to explain how great it tastes. And if you put ketchup AND mayonnaise on your hot dog, you are dead to me.
I’m certain that the National Days for sauerkraut (2nd Wednesday in October), onions (June 27th), cheese (June 4th), chili (4th Thursday in February), ketchup (June 5th), and mayonnaise (May 5th) are all the work of Big Dog. The hot dog lobbyists, and all their power and influence, are probably the ones who convinced those poor unfortunate souls to put ketchup and/or mayonnaise on their hot dogs. In my view, that puts them right up there with tobacco company lobbyists. (Don’t get me wrong: just because powerful and sinister forces compelled certain weak-willed people to put ketchup and/or mayonnaise on their hot dogs, does not absolve them from guilt. They, rightfully so, must continue to live in shame.)

It is true that we are inundated with countless National Days (although no National Pickled Beets Day yet), but after re-reading what I’ve written here so far, I think it’s time for a new National Day. We really need a National Stop Doing Stupid Google Searches and Writing Idiotic Essays Day — along with National Turn the Damn Computer Off and Go Take a Walk Day. 

But first, I need a hot dog.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

There’s Something About Mary

Next Tuesday, on August 15th, we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. This day is a holy day of obligation (not that anyone pays attention to that concept anymore, alas). 

When the Blessed Virgin Mary was bodily assumed into Heaven, do you think St. John watched her rise up through the clouds and exclaimed, “Yeow! Not again!”

After all, John was present when Jesus made a similar exit a few decades earlier. And tradition tells us that it was John who took care of Mary later on, so it’s possible that he witnessed her entrance into Heaven, too.
There’s a lot we know about Mary from Scripture, and a lot we don’t know. Church tradition fills in the blanks for some of this. For example, regarding the Feast of the Assumption, there is nothing in the Bible that describes Mary being assumed, body and soul, into Heaven when her time on earth was over. But common sense tells us that it not only could’ve happened, but most likely did happen.

The Bible clearly describes two holy people who did not experience natural death, but were miraculously brought straight into Heaven by the power of God: Enoch and Elijah. So, if these special people were given the honor of bypassing death and decay, doesn’t it make sense that God would offer that same honor to the Mother of Our Lord?

Anyway, many Christian denominations do not accept the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, and that’s OK. This topic is what St. Paul described as a “disputable matter,” that is, not a core Christian doctrine and therefore not something we ought to get all hot and bothered about.

A more important concern is the accusation that Catholics have turned Mary into a goddess, on the same level as God Almighty. Admittedly, some Marian devotions that have developed over the years sure make it seem like people are worshiping Mary. If that is the case, it is theologically wrong, and I hope God doesn’t judge these folks too harshly since their hearts are in the right place.

Anyway, Mary is most definitely the preeminent of all saints, but she is not a deity. The Holy Trinity is perfect the way it is. There’s no need to make it a quartet.
After Mary was assumed into Heaven, she was crowned “Queen of Heaven.” At this point, some of our non-Catholic friends will exclaim, “Wait a minute! That’s not in the Bible. Is this another one of those wacky Catholic legends about Mary?”

Well, actually, the Bible clearly describes this event. In the book of Revelation, chapter 12, we read: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). 

This passage does not mention Mary by name, but the next few verses describe this woman giving birth “to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations” (Rev 12:5).

Obviously, the male child refers to Jesus. So, that makes the woman with the “crown of twelves stars” none other than Mary. At this point, it’s not much of a stretch at all, and certainly not a wacky legend, to conclude that Mary is the Queen of Heaven.

I suspect that right after Mary was crowned Queen of Heaven, Jesus smiled at her and said, “OK, my dear Eema, now it’s time to get to work.” And work she has, being the leading member of the Communion of Saints, hearing countless prayer requests and interceding with her Son, along with many startling supernatural appearances throughout history.
The greatest thing about Mary is her humility. She never, ever wants the focus to be on herself. Her main mission is summed up in her last recorded words in Scripture. At the wedding feast at Cana (John, chapter 2), Mary pointed toward Jesus and then told the servers, “Do whatever He tells you.”

That has been Mary’s mission for close to 2,000 years: to tell people that they should do whatever Jesus says. And I have it on good authority that Jesus says to go to Mass next Tuesday and show some respect for His momma. 

Saturday, August 5, 2023

The Jury is Out on This Writer

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I received a summons for jury duty. To maintain my status as an upstanding citizen, I will report to the courthouse as scheduled rather than try to weasel out of it. That being said, however, I definitely do not want to become a juror on a long, drawn out murder trial. 
When that column appeared, I received many emails, most of which fell into two categories. The first group of emails offered “surefire” advice on how to get out of jury duty. Here are some suggestions: 
  • “Tell them you have the ability to know people are guilty just by looking at them. Then start pointing at people in the room (especially lawyers) and shout, ‘He’s guilty! And he’s guilty!’”

  • “Explain that you believe in the death penalty for all criminals – including people who get parking tickets.”

  • “Act really weird.” (But nowadays, who would notice?)

  • “When they start to ask you questions, throw up on somebody.”

  • “Stand up and declare, ‘I confess. I did it!’ This will get you out of jury duty, but you might have to go to prison for a while.” (Well, at least I’ll know when I can go home, which can’t be said about being sequestered during a long trial.)

  • Tell them you WANT to be on the jury, and then say, ‘Because I hear this defendant offers the best bribes!’”
The other group of emails I received expressed excitement that I would be writing about my jury duty adventures. For example:
  • “I can’t wait to read your take on the jury selection process. I’m sure it will be hilarious.” (Um, sure. Being holed up in a courthouse for hours or days with a bunch of other people who don’t want to be there is guaranteed to be a laugh riot.)

  • “I’m hoping for a juicy tale or two!” (A couple of juicy lobster tails sounds good, but I’m not sure what this reader expects.)

  • “You must be so excited. All new material to write about — for a change!” (Thanks, I think.)
It is true that I often write about what’s going on in my life, which is a lot easier than doing actual research. But it is not true that I purposely seek out awkward and painful situations just so I can write about them. I admit when something lousy happens, I often roll my eyes and say, “Well, at least I can write about this.” But I’d much rather have nothing to write about than to change a flat tire during rush hour on Rt. 2 in Glastonbury, lose my cell phone in the backseat of a taxi in Chicago, miss a connecting flight and have to sleep on the floor in an airport, or get struck with laryngitis in the middle of giving a presentation. (Whoa! It’s been many years since those events occurred, but I still cringe just thinking about them.)

As I write this, it is the evening before I’m supposed to report to the courthouse. When I go to Hartford Superior Court tomorrow morning, I will bring a notebook with me and jot down my observations. If anything weird happens, I’ll write about it.
But if it looks like I’m going to be a juror on a long, drawn out trial, I’ll play my ace in the hole. I will stand up and declare: “I am a columnist with the most influential newspaper in North America! And I am going to expose every sleazy and corrupt activity that goes on in this den of iniquity!” 

That should get me off the trial. Then I’ll just have to worry about my arraignment for creating a public disturbance. And yes, I will write about that, too. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Is Sarcasm the Highest Form of Intelligence?

A recent scientific study concluded that sarcasm is the highest form of intelligence. No, really, I’m not being sarcastic. And I’m not just saying this because sarcasm happens to be my personal superpower.
The study, conducted by a team of researchers at Harvard and Columbia, is titled, “The Highest Form of Intelligence: Sarcasm Increases Creativity Through Abstract Thinking for Both Expressers and Recipients.” (My my, what a short and pithy title, one might observe sarcastically.)

The research team tested the effects of sarcasm by first having volunteers engage in various verbal exchanges, some sincere and some sarcastic. Right after these interactions, the volunteers worked on tasks designed to measure their creativity. When the test subjects spent time in sarcastic conversations, they generally scored better on the creativity tests. The conclusion, according to the researchers, is that sarcasm is a good mental workout, which stimulates brain activity. 

When I was growing up, my mom used to tell me I was smart. And my dad also told me I was smart. (But in my dad’s case, he would say that I was “a smart,” and then add a three-letter word.)

Harvard’s Francesca Gino, who participated in the study, explained in a Harvard Gazette article: “To create or decode sarcasm, both the expressers and recipients of sarcasm need to overcome the contradiction between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions. This is a process that activates and is facilitated by abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking in everyone.”
Well, that’s really wonderful. Thank you, science! I don’t think I should hesitate any longer to fire off snide and hilarious comments at all times and in all situations. After all, it will make everyone involved more creative. Wait, what did you say? Yes, that does mean there are times when I refrain from making sarcastic comments. No, not just when I’m asleep. What are you, a smart, um, guy?

Anyway, it’s important to define sarcasm. A simple definition is “witty mockery.” Some people are more witty than others, and some are more mocky than others. Then, of course, there are those of us who have an abundant supply of both wit and mock.

Sarcasm and irony are similar but not exactly the same. Irony is defined as “the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning.” As an example, imagine a young mother as she watches her three small children burst into the house and run across the new white carpeting with muddy sneakers. She rolls her eyes and says, “I just love muddy sneakers on white carpeting!”

That is an ironic comment since it’s the exact opposite of what she thinks. Now, that situation would change to sarcasm if the young woman’s mother-in-law happened to be present and said, “Choosing to buy a white carpet with three small children was certainly a brilliant decision.”

Ooh, that’s gonna leave a mark. Mee-Maw’s comment contained irony — what she said was the exact opposite of what she thought — but it also included sarcasm, as there definitely was some mockeration going on there, namely, this passive-aggressive message to her daughter-in-law: my son married a moron, didn’t he?
So, from this example, I’m sure you can see why sarcasm is such a great verbal tool, which helps everyone involved become more creative and intelligent. In my example, Mee-Maw exercised her brain by coming up with a sick burn (as the cool kids say), and the daughter-in-law exercised her brain by thinking up ways to commit murder and not get caught.

So, when it comes to sarcasm, here’s the new rule: When in doubt, let it out! After all, who needs friends? 

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Transfiguration Points to Supernatural Realm

This Sunday is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Our ol’ pal Peter, along with James and John, had front row seats for this miraculous event. Scripture explains that Jesus “was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.” 

Peter was so frightened, he started babbling, and offered to build shelters for the three glorified persons. That was very typical of impulsive Peter. If he didn’t know what to say, he just started talking and hoped that maybe something sensible would eventually come out of his mouth. (Hmm, I know a guy like that. I see him every morning – in the mirror.) 
Peter had a history of flapping his yap without knowing what he was talking about. The most famous incident occurred on the night Jesus was betrayed, when Peter boasted that he would die for Jesus. But then later on, when things got a bit dicey, he denied knowing Jesus and bolted like a frightened bunny rabbit.

As the years went by, however, Peter grew in wisdom and became much more sober and thoughtful in his statements. It’s amazing what an infusion of the Holy Spirit can do to a person. Many decades after the Transfiguration, Peter referred to it in his second epistle as proof of Jesus’ divinity. He wrote, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, ‘This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.” 

It’s interesting that Peter cited the Transfiguration as evidence of Jesus’ supernatural power. After all, Peter witnessed all kinds of miracles at the hands of Jesus. He saw the Lord cure sick people, change water into wine, even raise the dead. Peter saw Jesus Himself walking around alive after having been crucified; watched with his own eyes as Jesus ascended into Heaven; and experienced the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. 
And yet, when Peter wanted to demonstrate that he had personally witnessed the miraculous nature of Jesus’ life, he talked about the Transfiguration. It must have been quite a spectacular sight.

Now, of course, modern skeptics will say that Peter was, in fact, following “cleverly devised myths.” These folks, who deny that a supernatural realm exists, say that Peter was either hallucinating when he witnessed the Transfiguration, or, more likely, lying through his teeth about it to manipulate gullible religious followers.

There’s really no other choice for those who have an anti-supernatural bias. If supernatural events are, by definition, impossible, then the events described in this week’s gospel reading could not have occurred.

About 30 years ago, I was involved in a prolonged back-and-forth debate on the Letters to the Editor page of a local newspaper. One regular contributor, a devout secularist, often accused me of having “a fascination with the supernatural.” 

Well, if his materialistic worldview is correct, and a supernatural realm does not exist anywhere in the universe, then spending even a tiny amount of time thinking about the supernatural (let alone writing about it repeatedly) is indeed a waste of time. But on the other hand, if a supernatural realm does exist; if there truly is a Divine Being who created life on earth; if mankind possesses a soul/spirit which will exist long after our bodies have died; then we can’t spend ENOUGH time thinking about it, writing about it, trying to draw closer to it, and, yes, being fascinated with it. 
We who live today have not witnessed a spectacular Transfiguration, like Peter did. But if you’re starting to have doubts about your faith, just remember that many of us have witnessed genuine supernatural miracles: drunks suddenly becoming sober; thieves becoming honest; prostitutes becoming chaste; managers of Planned Parenthood clinics becoming pro-life activists — all through faith in Jesus Christ.
Please, don’t doubt – God is real and His supernatural power is amazing!