Chocolate Cake

After the last two weeks of political conventions, it should come as no surprise that not everybody loves chocolate cake. Unlike both major political parties, chocolate cake makes sense. But, not everybody loves it. Why?

There is nothing inherently wrong or bad about chocolate cake (again, unlike both major political parties). Tho not everybody even has access to chocolate cake (ref political conventions, which are in our faces, 24/7; somehow, even the priest at Mass managed to point out current politics in his homily (to be accurate, he made some pointed observations about current politicians).

The list of what is wrong with American politics is long (proving once again, that while genius is limited, stupid is infinite); but I am at a loss to find even one thing wrong with chocolate cake.

To be slavishly accurate, it is “German Chocolate Cake” which is my own personal favorite (those in the know, know that the title really should be “German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake” – having nothing to do with anything at all Deutsch). Which I made for myself for my birthday for years, but this year, my wife has me helping a friend move on my birthday, so no cake. Yeah: too bad, so sad. Anyway…

True: nothing, in and of itself, “intrinsically evil” about chocolate cake. However, when there’s too much of it; that is a horse of a different color.

We never read the Bible at home while I was growing up; dunno why, ‘cause we went to Mass every Sunday and every Holy Day of Opportunity (I never liked the term “obligation” – so I’ve borrowed “day of opportunity” from someone else – apologies for not remembering well enough to give credit where credit is due), also “CCD” (the Catholic version of “Sunday School”), and I can’t forget prayers before every meal and at bed time. We even went to Mass while trekking across country during my dad’s two weeks of annual vacation. More religion than most, perhaps; but that was it, lock-stock-and-barrel.

For some reason, the parable of the fig tree has stood out since my earliest days. It always seemed so strange that Jesus killed that tree just because it didn’t have any figs. Whatever happened to “live and let live”? It wasn’t until recently that I discovered some commentary that explained the parable. It was probably the footnotes in the Nararre Bible; if not, then the Magnificat monthly magazine. In any event, I was a Catholic for sixty years without understanding that parable – so how much else have I not understood? The answer to that question boggles the mind. Or, maybe not.

The whole point is not “what are you about – what are you doing?” The whole point is simply, “are you doing the right thing?” That fig tree had lots and lots of leaves; one would think, a good thing for a tree – especially in a desert climate – to have. Like chocolate cake, nothing inherently evil about leaves.

But, figs it did not have. And, it should have. That is the point.

It should have had figs. It was the season for figs and it had none. Lot of leaves – lots of sizzle; no figs – no steak. So, the tree was not doing what it should. Tho it was standing out there, minding its own business, making lots of leaves. Maybe it missed the memo. Unfortunately for the tree, Jesus called it; and the tree was busted.

Nothing wrong with chocolate cake, but chocolate cake is not what we should be about. Once in a while, leaves are a good thing. Once in a while, chocolate cake provides the positive strokes that are also necessary for living. But there is a big difference between a piece of chocolate cake once in a while, and a piece every night, or every week. To say nothing of what else you could eat, or spend your time with.

And that is the point: are you spending your time doing the right things? Or, are you spending your times making leaves, and no figs. You see, while some people can “multi-task” (I can’t, so I really have no idea how others do that), there really are priorities. And maybe some resources (time, energy) are better spent on things other than chocolate cake.

I don’t know anybody who is not doing all they can. Finding someone who is not busy is about as likely as finding an honest person in Washington (D.C. or Olympia – take your pick). Busy, busy, busy. Always rushing around. Spending their lives doing and not being. Lots of leaves, no figs.

We all know – intellectually, we all know – that our total days breathing and walking around are numbered. We all know that we may have already seen our last sunrise (or, sunset). We all hope that we will live forever in perfect health, even when we’ve never, ever, met anyone who has (why do we think we’ll be the first?).

Not a case of “play today, repent tomorrow,” for nearly no one thinks they have any reason to repent of anything. What’s wrong with leaves? Everybody’s doing it. Some are even making more leaves – a lot more – than others. I never liked figs anyway.

The problem is, figs count, leaves don’t. I hope I’m making figs – I hope, but I don’t know. I hope, but I don’t know for certain. All I can do is try, and pray. Pray that GOD will show me how to do better.

Could Jesus have cut the tree some slack? Yeah, could’ve. Didn’t. Pretty brutal. But, for thousands of years, GOD tried working with the Hebrews, and still to this day, hasn’t been able to soften their hearts. Am I doing enough? Dunno. I am aware, very aware, that there is always room for growth, room to improve, another branch to grow figs on.

Figs, figs, figs – more figs. Less chocolate cake. And that is the downfall of chocolate cake: figs. While eating one, I am not eating the other. While doing things that are moving me away from GOD, I am not doing things that are moving me closer. Two masters – something in the Bible about that. On the one hand, I have things of this world that do not move me closer to GOD; on the other hand, I am very much aware of things that do move me closer. And they are mutually exclusive.

I’m afraid, very much afraid, that the recent political conventions are a harbinger of things to come. I’m afraid, very much afraid, that the storm is coming, and it will be brutal. And there is no reason to think that it won’t be the perfect storm than sinks this grand experiment called America.

The recent, targeted, murder of a Roman Catholic priest in France (Fr Jacques Hamel, RIP) has done two things. First, it has escalated the conflict between Islam and the rest of the world. Second, the silence of the political parties and the news media on this shows that we can expect further attacks (no repercussions, no reason to stop killing religious) and further silence.

Put another way, we now have proof that nothing is sacred, not to ISIS, not to our politicians.

The fig tree didn’t have a chance – it had already used up all of its chances. It was time for the fire. I need to eat less chocolate cake. Politics in America would be an embarrassment if they weren’t so disgusting (really, Clinton and Trump – this is the best we can do???).

I think I still have a chance to cut down on my chocolate cake to make room for more figs. I’m not feeling so optimistic about the American dream. Perhaps, like the fig tree, it is time for the fire?

The Last Word

I have come up with yet another addition to the list of things I want to teach the Twins (who will be 13 months old in a few days – so, lots of time for me to learn this first): it is not necessary to always have the last word. It may not ever be necessary.

I don’t know why we want to be the one who lobs the last bon mot in a conversation. A feeling of superiority? Or, the opposite?

I guess Winston Churchill was pretty good with the one-liners. But, it is my understanding that he had the last word because no one could better him, not because he was already out the door. Apparently, his rhetorical skills were quite a bit better than most around him. Dunno why he is known for that sort of thing; maybe he just took delight in putting people down? Maybe he was just so brilliant that his insight just couldn’t be matched? I’ve enjoyed reading his work and reading about him; but, separated by time and distance, I was never the object of his jabs (anything can be entertaining from afar).

But, most people I know are very much like me: not brilliant, just average. Peers. And most conversations I engage in don’t impact history. So, why must someone else feel the need to have the last word?

Perhaps I am intimidating, and the only way they feel they can balance the books is to throw something hurtful over their shoulder? While I think I am working very hard at not being arrogant, it is the height of arrogance to think I’m humble – I get that.

But, why can’t the last word as you send your husband off to a job you know he hates, and the only reason he does it is to support his family, be something like “I love you,” or “Stay safe,” or “I miss you already”? Something to make me smile as I join the other road warriors on the interstate highway. Instead, I get to spend the next hour, while dodging those whose minds are clearly elsewhere (I don’t know what the guy who rear-ended me last night was thinking), telling myself that what I last heard her say is really not that important.

I know of more than one example where the last word was only not helpful, it was hateful. In these cases, the recipient of the venom died, and the other person went on to live for years. What a hell of a thing to live with, huh? I’m not so morbid as to fire back (as the last word after the last word) something like, “And, I’ll take that to my grave.” Talk about a hateful thing to say.

Jesus Christ said something about going before GOD with the burden of being cross-threaded with someone else (“if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you”; see Matthew 5:23). Since we don’t know when our last breath will be, shouldn’t we be even more careful about what we say? Or would we rather live with knowing our last word to someone left a bad taste in their mouth?  For all eternity.

So, how do I prevent this in myself; and hopefully teach this to my kids?

First, I remember two things I heard while growing up. One, from my mother, “If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything.” The other, from my dad, “If it doesn’t add value, don’t say it.” Fingers from the same glove, I think; but not the same fingers. I might add my own: “Is it helpful?” Is something I say, or do, going to help one other, or many others, or even me, make progress, move closer to GOD? If not, then don’t say it / don’t do it.

Of course, above all, don’t gossip; that goes without saying.

I’m thinking of the opening to “Love, Actually.” People at airports, coming or going. Not being hurtful.

Maybe it would require extra effort to say something nice as a good-bye, even if your heart’s not in it. But it will get easier (thanks to the power of habit). And maybe sincere, eventually. In any event, it would just be better to depart on a positive note. Just better. Not a complex theory. Easy, peasy.

Well, that was easy

Frankly, I have always found being able to vote a very exciting proposition. I enjoyed studying the issues and the candidates, even to the point of actually reading the sometimes voluminous voter information “pamphlets” of recent years. Before absentee ballots, I took a cheat-sheet into the voting booth; now, I sit down at the kitchen table and very carefully color-in the little ellipses.

So, tho not quite “Christmas morning,” I opened up my ballot for the Washington State Primary this week and ….

You know what I saw. In alphabetical order were the two political parties and the candidates for each. Since I found none of the printed names the least bit appealing (if not down-right repulsive), I resolved to rip off the little strip of paper (which is there why?), stuff the ballot into the first envelope, and then the second envelope, and sign my name and, whoa!

Here in this revolting politically-liberal state (although it is still possible for a baker to decide whom he wants to serve), the ancient two-party primary is alive and well: I had to declare allegiance to one, or the other, major political party. I was required to put a mark into a box stating I wanted anyone to think I was either a Democrat or a Republican. When in fact, I can’t possibly distance myself far enough away from either. It is neither a moral or ethical dilemma for me, it is a matter of taste.

Easy, peasy, into the recycling bin it went.

In a manner of speaking, I have voted; tho I’m not sure “abstention” or “abdication” might be more appropriate. And, I don’t know if the lack of documentation of my lack of participation in the primary will affect my ability to participate in November. Maybe I won’t be getting a ballot? I don’t know: I don’t think I’ve ever missed voting in a primary before.

If I can’t vote in November, at least I’ll be able to put a sticker on my car that says, “Don’t blame me, you voted for ….”

Oops, are pronouns allowed anymore? Maybe I should adopt the gender-confused “s/h/it”?

A reasonable hope?

Being human, I would like to have a reasonable hope that I will not burn in hell for all eternity: it is my skin, after all. As is heard almost everywhere you turn these days, “it’s all about me.” So yeah, I’d rather put all my eggs in the Urs von Balthasar basket. I’d like to go confidently to the Pearly Gates, stand in front of Saint Peter and say, “But, Bishop Barron says….” It’d make my current life a lot – a hell of a lot – easier; the thought that, no matter what I do in this life, I will be saved in the next.

 

But, while both men are vastly more intelligent than I am, I can’t accept that theory.

 

First, and foremost, if we are all saved, then what was the point of Jesus Christ? If Hell is empty, then Adam and Eve are also now in Heaven. And Adolf and Uncle Joe and what’s-his-name and his little red book. There is evidently, no need for a messiah. And the Bible is just a collection of fiction.

 

I don’t buy that, either.

 

Then, if GOD really is omnipotent, then no sin is beyond Him, is it? Well yeah, GOD really is omnipotent; but maybe HE will pull everybody, including Lucifer and his ilk out of the eternal damnation on the Last Day? So, Hell does have somebody in it NOW; but eventually it will be empty? We just got back to my first paragraph.

 

Second, while I can easily find bits and pieces thru-out the Bible that do convince me that Hell is real, and people do go there, I’ll be damned (like that?) if I can find anything in the Bible that even hints that Hell isn’t real. Very true that I am no scholar; but I do read the Bible and I do read various commentaries on it.

Some of the stuff in the Bible is undoubtedly symbolic, or metaphorical, or allegorical; but some of it seems intuitively obvious to the most casual observer. Jesus does tell some great stories; but it’s hard to equate “It would have been better had he [Judas] not been born,” with “See ya later.” In other words, why would I ever believe just two dudes after nearly 2,000 years and countless other thinkers have validated the Bible? Put another way: who’s this von Balthasar to contradict the Bible? No friend of mine.

 

Finally (for the moment), I think it would be nice to be well thought of, this side of the grave; regardless of what my eternal future looks like. If it turns out that I’ll be listening to the heavenly choir for all eternity, then it is win-win. If there is no life after this one, then I at least I played this game the best way I could; which leaves me 1-0. Yeah, pretty thin. But the alternative, putting all my eggs in the von Balthasar/Barron basket, is just plain stupid.

Mea culpa

I can see from the beautiful statistics that WordPress creates for every blogger that my readership has fallen off slightly (since it was never very high, falling “slightly” means fallen to zero).  No huge surprise, really: My “day job,” in conjunction with a household move, on top of trying to be a good father (St Joseph, pray for me!) has managed to leave no room on my plate for writing.  That I spend at least an hour every day in my prayer life goes without saying.

Well, the move from Kent to Redmond means my commute time got slashed to something closer to half-an-hour, from 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  This was not only a savings of time, but also energy.  Overtime spent on my “day job” – which some of you know is really a 12-hour night shift – has dried up, so there’s more time and energy.  However, the Twins are much more active as they approach ten months old; but what they take in time, they give back ten-fold in joy and energy (ok, more joy than energy).

What this means is that I just might have more resources (time and energy) to write; which I would dearly love (in direct contrast to the job, which I detest).

I do want to take this opportunity to give a huge shout-out to Michael Voris, over at Church Militant (“ChurchMilitant.TV”).  In the past, he had made references to his checkered past which I never paid much attention to.  First, his past really had no bearing on what I was hearing now.  Second, I am certainly in no position to comment on anyone else’s checkered past (I can relate to the Cardinal Sin of Lust).  Well, he devoted an entire Vortex segment (“Limiting God”) to the details of his past.

His motivation on sharing at such a level is a threat from the Archdiocese of New York, which is apparently squirming under his criticism.  In this age of the internet, it takes next to nothing to find information, so why the Archdiocese thinks shutting him up is any protection only reveals its own stupidity.  With the embarrassing Timothy Cardinal Dolan as a spokesman, how could the Archdiocese ever hope to keep out of the limelight?  The only question in my mind is why Rome doesn’t reassign Dolan – they did it to Raymond Cardinal Burke (at least now, I know where Malta is).

New Subject:

When I was living overseas (for 17 years), I discovered one of the benefits was being able to easily ignore the craziness of the American presidential race.  That luck ran out, and now I find myself completely flummoxed.

As a youngster, I was a card-carrying Democrat (yes, literally).  I campaigned (knocking on doors, etc.) for the likes of Mo Udall and Jimmy Carter.  Dunno what I had, exactly, against the Republicans (can we say Barry Goldwater?); maybe it was the belief that the Demos actually wanted to improve things, not just hold on to the status quo.

Enter Hillary Clinton.  Gee, I thought we were finally rid of Slick Willy.  Biden wants a flat screen tv in every living room.

On the other side of the aisle, we’ve got a bunch that is cut from the same political cloth as the clowns in Congress who haven’t done squat in the past eight years.

Then there’s The Donald that is making everybody uneasy – and with good reason.  While the big money of traditional politics makes the office-holder accountable to all the wrong people, Trump would be accountable to nothing but his own aggrandizement.

Politics has sunk to new lows.

Finally:

I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but I love the Twins more and more every day.  ‘Course the pressure is on to try to figure out how to cope with those that can’t figure out which bathroom to use.  I mean other than keeping them out of public schools, and Target.

It’s all about me (not)

Because of my job, I am unavoidably assaulted with “news” about the current “presidential race” (not sure if “presidential” should be in quotes – as in the things going on are not worthy of being called presidential; or if “race” should be in quotes – since the current fiasco is more long-winded (dare I say boring?) than a cricket test match).  After having spent nearly 20 years overseas (i.e., not in the USA), I learned to appreciate other news sources (read: BBC).

And part of the exposure to politicians is having “issues” thrown in my face, over and over and over (ad nauseam).  Topics I guess I should be concerned about, but just can’t.

In my quest for preparing our Twins for their future, I search (“surf”) the web looking for what I think they ought to know.  Facts that should influence their opinions; which of course should then affect their actions.

Two stories on the BBC World Service tonight made me pause.

One was on the  convenience of food.  Specifically, “Is Convenience Killing Us?”  At issue was whether or not “hyper-processed” food was leading to better health, either in the west (USA, UK), or in the east (Red China).  One commentator in the podcast wondered what was compelling us to conclude that everything else we fill our days with was more important than what we eat.  Basically, we are wringing our hands over our bad choices from a plethora of products.  The Twins are approaching their ninth month, and are being weaned – time to start a kitchen garden at least.

(I do love the irony that, we are moving to a new house that will allow a kitchen garden (fresh, homegrown tomatoes!) and reduce my commute to the job I hate by about half.)

The other article was on water.  Of course, everyone knows how consumed Americans are about gender orientation.  This really is shameful considering how many people either don’t have easy access to water, or the water that is available is, well, not suitable for human consumption.

There aren’t many words accompanying this article, which will make it a “quick read.”  Mustafah Abdulaziz has traveled around the world with his camera, and 70 large-scale photographs are on display in London; a handful are available on line.  Consider:

I don’t know how far the children in Sindh Province, Pakistan, must travel for water; but, judging from the background of this photo, it is a really, really long way.  And judging by what they are carrying, they won’t be carrying much water back home.  And, when do they have time for soccer lessons and baseball lessons and … ?

That 57 million people in Nigeria don’t have access to clean water makes me wonder if the photo of a group pulling water out of a very primitive well are some of the lucky ones.

(If you’re not real sure how many people 57 million is, the 2013 National Health Interview Survey estimates something less than 1.8 percent of adults in the USA identify themselves as homosexuals.  This is on the order of about 2 million people.  Presumably, they all have access to clean water.)

It took me awhile to understand one of the photos.  The caption was frighteningly clear: in India, 140,000 children die every year from diarrhea caused by bad water.  Looking at our Twins, I can’t even begin to imagine the heartache for the parents.

Besides learning how to type (on a manual typewriter, no less), I often wonder what I learned in high school.  But I apparently learned to love learning.  I hope to instill the Twins with this love.  I do know my parents taught me (by their example) to love to read.  Ultimately, I hope they learn that this life is not about them – they have already taught me that much.

 

 

Let me count the ways….

Quite by accident, I just happened upon an article titled, “17 things the boss should always say in a performance review.” It was purely accidental, because I would have had to have cared – like I once did – to go look for something like that. You know, if I was a boss, I would be burning the candle at both ends to find nuggets like that. I’m convinced my boss has never even seen a headline like that, let alone read, or studied that kind of material.

Of the 17 topics in Jacquelyn Smith’s “Business Insider” article, not a single one came up in either my “performance review,” or my more recent “salary discussion.” Not a single one.

Rather, my boss informed me that his “spousal unit” – is that supposed to be some cutesy way of referring to this wife? – has given him permission to retire anytime. He emphasized the point by saying “2015, 2016, 2017 …” Not sure if his dumbing-down was for my benefit or his. I still can’t figure out how his retirement plans figure into my life in any way.

His next major point was to say that a lot of people leave looking for more money, only to come back when they find out the grass is greener on this side of the fence. Huh? Is that encouragement to leave, or just another way of saying, “take it or leave it”? A previous boss (third level) was fond of saying we should vote with our feet.

Smith would have a boss open up with “How are you feeling?” or “I’d like to hear your thoughts on how you think you did this year.” Me, too. Just once.

By a very convoluted path, I found myself in what is essentially a “call center.” Imagine a call center for any product or appliance you have in the house, or driveway. If it breaks, or makes a funny noise, you’re not going to call ghost busters, are you? Nope, you call the manufacturer; there is a highly trained, highly experienced team standing by, around the clock (literally 24/7/366) to answer technical questions. In my case, the product is airplanes and they often have passengers on them – put yourself in their shoes (might not be very difficult, if you’ve flown very often).

The call center I was in up to a year ago handled older model airplanes – airplanes that I had years of experience and training on; the call center I have been in the past 12 months handles the latest-and-greatest model (a single model). So, with no experience and no training, I sit at a desk with a couple of phone lines and three computer monitors linked to half –a-dozen databases, in a room with around ten others.

My boss says I did well over the past year. I remind him that I have had no training at all on the one model we support. That was worth a salary increase of precisely 1.75% “Celebrate the positives”? You mean like I didn’t go postal? Smith says, “Reinforce the person’s strengths. Recognize what they are doing right and give them an opportunity to expound on their achievements.” Really?

As far as asking me what I could have done better, or differently, or where I might see my greatest potential for growth and improvement, I’m sure that never occurred to him.

And, a plan for improvement, whether my words or his? Hah, that would be a joke. Even more ludicrous would be him saying “I’m here to support you. Never hesitate to ask me any questions that arise or share concerns that come up.”

The positive note that charade ended on was that it ended. As we were walking down the hall, back to the call center, he asked, “How are those two little ones?” My Twins are eight months old; that is the first time he has ever asked anything about my home life. If you have babies in the house, you know it is not “business as usual” when they arrive. I know he has kids – he talks about them frequently (though he talks about fishing more).

Many moons ago, I was filled with piss and vinegar (or youthful enthusiasm, if you prefer), and I was going to be “a somebody” in the company. I never had a horizon as to how long I was going to stay; I never had a limit as to how high I was going to climb the corporate ladder. I learned two things going to classes at night to earn my MBA: (1) hard work was not enough – career progression has more to do with who you know and less with what you know; and (2) it wasn’t worth a marriage and an estranged daughter. In other words, the enthusiasm I brought with me 30 years ago has been beaten out of me.

I long ago stopped looking for anyone to say thank you, or in my potential to grow or develop as a professional. I have instead, put my energies into my new family and my Church. In the early days, I didn’t have time for anything but The Company. Now, I have no time for The Company.