Archive for February, 2015

What Martyrdom Looks Like


Stray cats and dogs

Lots of people collect ‘em. I don’t. I collect books. But, like mongrels, the books on my shelves are not collectors’ items or first editions. There are some interesting titles (I think); but few people would give my books a second glance. In fact, few people have, tho most of my 1,000 volumes on are shelves in the living room. Opposite the front door. You can’t miss ‘em.

My point is this: you can tell who loves cats and dogs, either by the smell, or the bark, or the hair (or, is it fur? I can never remember). As my little brother might say, “Love my dog, love me” (or, do I have that backwards?). He might say it, but I won’t. I used to be ok with pets – just, “ok” – really ambivalent; didn’t much care one way or the other. Until I bought a house next door to a woman who owns about a dozen football dogs (little yappy things, the kind of dog I’d dearly love to kick), boards and grooms others (some, real dogs). When I worked nights, the little darlings often played in her backyard (while she stayed inside) and kept me company. Yet another reason why discharging firearms in the city is not permitted.

So, there’s Levi, inviting Jesus over to his house for dinner. I can imagine him then thinking something along the lines of, “Oops! I hope He’s not offended by the mess. When was the last time the wife cleaned? Maybe He’ll come tomorrow?” I’m thinking, “No such luck.” Jesus probably said, “What are we waiting for?” What would Jesus have noticed upon walking in the front door of Levi’s house? What would be His first impression upon entering yours?

In reading that passage of Levi’s invitation, I had the thot: “What if Jesus was at my door, right now?” I’d hear the knocking (I disabled the doorbell when I worked nights), I’d go open the door, I’d recognize Him immediately, and I’d blurt out, “Jesus Christ.” Maybe He’d smile (‘cause He knew that was coming), Maybe He’d make some quip like, “I certainly hope so.” I mean, Jesus has a sense of humor, right? I know His Father does, so “like father, like son,” right?

Anyway, He couldn’t help but notice the wall of books. He might think, “This guys sure loves books,” or maybe a more cynical, “I wonder if he’s read even half these things?” ‘Course, He already knows, so I guess this would be a rhetorical question? Is that a rhetorical question?

A better question is: “Are you living your life so that (a), if (GOD forbid, eh?) Jesus came over for dinner tonight (think of Sidney Poitier, if that helps) you could – in any way – be the least little bit comfortable; or (b) you’d actually like what you might find in Heaven?” Think about the latter possibility: what, exactly would you do if the streets of Heaven were, indeed, paved with gold? Not working? How about singing “Hallelujah” for all eternity (I was gonna say “all day, every day,” but of course, time has no meaning in Heaven). Maybe trying to make a joyful noise on Sunday mornings would be a good warm-up?

I see a lot of debate about whether or not there is a Hell, or if it’s populated. Logically, it makes perfect sense that there is nobody in Hell: of course GOD would make something that is absolutely worthless. And, since I am trying to prepare for that other eventuality (I accept that I haven’t filed my taxes yet), I’m very curious about what I read in the Owner’s Manual (as a very important man once described it to me – he was also a Disciple of Christ minister). I’m not finding much hope at all for the idea that there is no Hell, that Jesus won’t judge after all (maybe just wink-wink and a nod of the head?), and maybe being a goat is not just being the butt of some joke (or, maybe it is?). How else to read Matthew 25:41-46?

So, not much comfort in the concept that Jesus is my “Get out Jail Free Card.” No, I’m not thinking I can do much to guarantee that I’ll like what’s behind Door Number Two, when I’m standing there (naked, and alone) in front of the Pearly Gates. But, at least – at the very least – I will be able to say that I tried.

While I do believe the Bible is inspired (the Holy Spirit guiding the hand of man which held the pen), I don’t believe it is all, word-for-word, literally true (for starters, none of the original Bible has survived to this day, and none of what has survived was written in English). Some parts I do take at face value. like not trying to interpret the Bible by myself (2 Peter 1:20). Look to Burridge if you’re trying to get your hands around the genre of the Gospels – I’m only half-way thru his What Are the Gospels, and the thing I am really sure of is that I’m not really sure of much. But, I do believe that the entire Bible is about Jesus Christ; and the one thing that keeps coming back, over and over, is the idea that He is setting Himself up (forward?) as an example. He wants us to follow His example, His lead. Very much a “Do as I say, and do as I do,” kind of thing.

And that makes my trials and tribulations inescapable. I have no personal knowledge of scourging or crucifixion; but, like standing in front of a Mac truck on the interstate, I really (no, really) don’t think I need to. Granted, I might be missing part of the, um (forgive me) full impact; but I’ll take that chance. Nevertheless, the end of Jesus’ life here on earth was not all skittles and beer. And, I don’t believe He intends for us to have a free-ride, either. Pretty much a case of: “This is what I did for you, what are you doing for Me?”

Full disclosure: that last sentence, that question I originally wrote as “This is what I did for you, what are you going to do for Me?” A quick re-read and I discovered that it shouldn’t be future tense, it should be here and now: today. The Season of Lent is a great time, one could say the perfect time for an assessment of what you value and what you are doing (actually doing, not just planning on doing) to realize those goals. It seems that everyone I know is busy. Busy, busy, busy. Really, the only question is: “Busy doing what?” Anything important? Anything that will make a difference in your life; or just stuff to try to hang on to whatever your life is like at the moment?

Do you look out a window and try to find ways to help others, or do you look in a mirror and try to find ways to help yourself? What was the last book you opened? Got any books at all around the house? Any magazines besides Readers’ Digest? Read anything besides a menu? Anything at all? Or, just marking time? Just putting one foot in front of the other? Look around the house, exactly what do you think is getting you ready for your future? What you do today profoundly affects today, and very nearly makes tomorrow guaranteed. Yeah, the bell tolls for all of us. And, eternity is a long time.

Scylla and Charybdis

No, I can’t actually pronounce those two words either; even though I was introduced to them in early high school (thank you, Mr Oesch). But, unlike a lot of words that I have a comfortable relationship with, understand what they mean (or rather, what the expression means), and can use them in a sentence, I just can’t say ‘em.

What brought them to mind this morning was the growing controversy about the allowance of some sort of alternative group to participate in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, but not to allow a comparable group of a differing political point of view to participate. While this topic is very rich in targets (unconscionably so), I want (at present) to concentrate on only one (maybe, if I run out of grist for this particular mill, I’ll cast my net wider).

Now, I do not consider myself Irish, nor do I hold any particular attachment to the Irish. I have absolutely nothing against the Irish (or the British, who have treated the Irish no better than white Americans have treated black Americans, or, any other non-white Americans, for that matter). And, growing up, I always thought the St Patrick’s Day festivities were nothing to be taken seriously, if not something of a joke. After all, my family, with no attachment to the Finns, celebrated St Urho’s Day (obviously, the day before St Patrick’s Day) fairly religiously (ok, so my Dad was the only one I knew who sent out St Urho’s Day cards with the zeal of anyone sending out the annual Christmas Letter).

But to pour dye into the Chicago River (really?), or stage a parade in New York City? Do grownups do that sort of thing? Well, now that I are one, I guess I can no longer suspend disbelief. Yes Virginia, adults actually do stuff like that; though no one quite understands the reasoning.

Nevertheless, in this day-and-age, to hold some sort of celebration, ostensibly in the name of honoring a Roman Catholic Saint boggles the mind (just in case you didn’t know, some Roman Catholics – especially those who drink green beer, ‘cause there’s really no difference between crankcase oil and Guinness – do believe there really, actually, honestly, and no-foolin’ was a dude who chased all the grasshoppers out of Finland, no, wait, was that snakes?). It would seem to me that the last thing any self-respecting tree-hugging, bed-wetting, baby-killing, any-lifestyle-other-than-one-thousands-of-years-old liberal would want, would be to pay any attention to, let alone set aside a special day on the calendar, to eat-drink-and-be-merry for a person revered by the embodiment and personification of (gasp) a 2,000 year old established (shudder) religion.

Huh? Have these people not read their own manifesto? Well, as we know from unbelievably diverse experience, the very foundation, the very bedrock of liberalism is to discard (bash?) anything older, and other, than itself. Most especially the concept that “the establishment” – that is, the existing establishment, not the one they are trying to, um, establish – is inherently bad and must be done away with. At any cost. At least, in the 60s, when I first ran into this anti-establishment way of thinking, the method was violence; which was, at the very least, honest. Tommie Smith had the brass cajones to stand up and be counted; you’d be hard pressed to find that kind of integrity today.

Be that as it may, what I really want to know is: can a Roman Catholic Cardinal be impeached? Yes, in the case of Dolan, he is an ordained priest; but as everyone (anyone?) knows, cardinals are appointed. A stroke of the papal pen gives them a new title; I presume a similar pen can revert them to a toad or lizard (apologies to our reptilian friends; which, according to Julia Roberts are more worthy of this earth than us warm-blooded human beings). But, a political toad Dolan surely is.

We no longer have a government-recognized “Christmas Holiday,” or “Easter Holiday” (though the time away from our jobs is still there); why do we still have a government-recognized parade of (to all intents and purposes) a Roman Catholic Saint? You need an excuse to be an idiot? Fine. But be honest enough not to invoke the Church as your excuse. I mean, how do you live with yourself? I’d think you be torn in at least two pieces by the dichotomy.

So, there’s this parade in NYC and a fringe-group is going to march. Why? To honor a saint? Already I am laughing. An exceptionally holy man of a church? Horrors. Et cetera (you know where I’m going). I can hear them now: “I’m going to … to honor … to pay respect to …” – oh! I just can’t go on. This keyboard can stand only so much irony.

But why does Dolan associate himself in any way with the parade? I am quite sure the cranks and the crazies can’t help themselves; but, I would think that either Dolan or his boss would have the good sense to detach from something that has been hijacked. Instead of doing the thing that does make sense, that is consistent with Church teaching, Dolan continues to beam his corpulent face upon the front page, claiming to be a Roman Catholic Cardinal. Excuse me while I throw up (retch, barf, puke, etc.).

Fine, Chicago, pour green dye in your river. Fine, NYC, stage a march. Fine, New Orleans, host a party (Mardi Gras) that is the very antithesis of the season (that would be Lent). But, don’t – puh-lease don’t – think that, for even one little second, that you have my blessing, endorsement, or (dare I say?) embrace.

Why “Scylla and Charybdis”? It is because of events such as those in NYC and the Middle East (thank you Graeme Wood), that I am refining who I am: what is important to me. The so-called alternative life-styles that are all the rage in the US now are different for the immediate gratification of being temporarily different (if everyone is being “alternative,” I have to wonder what they are alternative to). Which means there is no “between a rock and a hard place” for me. I grew up not caring about the celebrations hosted in some cities on March 17, and if possible, I care less now.

I guess maybe I should thank Dolan and his political posturing then? And, if I didn’t find him such an embarrassment, I might. But I think I’m going to pass.

Some singer made famous the line, “I would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” Fine. You go ahead and live for today. For me, today is fleeting; but, eternity is a long time.


Wood, Graeme, “What ISIS Really Wants,” The Atlantic, 2015 March,

What’s the point?

People watching is, in a word, fascinating. And, easy to do: anytime, day or night; at no cost, to boot. All you invest is your time, and no sweat is involved. In fact, you can eat while you do it, so it is the perfect occupation for Americans. It’s a wonder that more people don’t do it. Well, in a way, most Americans do it; trouble is, they don’t learn anything from it. It’s pure, unadulterated, mindless entertainment. It’s the national pastime. Is this a great country, or what? But, I digress.

What I’d like to know is why people do what they do. Yeah, I’m a people watcher, and the reason why I am is because they are everywhere. Damn hard to avoid. Especially, living in a city, having to have a “9-to-5” (i.e., traditional) job, and trying not to be distracted by the trees and not see the forest during Mass.

So, last night (when I can, I go to Mass both Saturday and Sunday – I need a lot of help), I plant myself in the pew about half-an-hour before Mass to try to get my head into the most important thing I do all week. And, as usual, the “Edmonds Group” was in full voice. (I have mentioned them before in these pages). It is, quite literally, a group of about 5 or 6 “little old ladies” that see the church building as a bus station. Being women, they do like to talk (tho, I’m beginning to wonder if men don’t rival them for idiotic prattle). And, being older, their hearing is not particularly acute. Altho, their voices haven’t lost any volume. Hmm.

Now, if their football stadium voce (sorry, I couldn’t find an antonym for sotto voce) was discussing religion, at least it would be relevant to the situation; that is, something to do with why they were there.

Sorry. I guess I mean to say: something to do with why < I > was there. They are obviously not there for any reason other than to gab about things they won’t remember tomorrow. In fact, one of their number proudly (or, at least loudly) announced that she hadn’t been in church since Thanksgiving (some kind of injury, I think); her compatriots hadn’t noticed her absence, apparently.

Thank GOD, the opening procession and hymn quieted them down.

Of course, by this time, two young men sat in front of me. Two young men that I had seen before. Two young men that clearly want to be someplace else (but, at least they don’t chatter). They enter the pew with nary a nod, let alone genuflection, or (ugh) perfunctory bow and sit. They mostly stand and kneel and sit with the congregation. Mostly sit. They go to Communion. and they leave early (typically walk straight out the door after receiving).

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: I should be paying attention to Mass and not to GOD’s children and their “interesting” behavior. I could (feebly) offer that, if I am going to ignore everybody else, I should stay home and pray in my garret. But, I am trying to be part of the community. Clearly, I have a long way to go.

But, if you’re still with me, then I’ll try to get back to my point:

If people are going to make a minimal effort to do something that clearly has no meaning for them, why bother? I mean, if it means so little, then how much value can it have? And, if it has so little value, why do it? As my mother and I say to each other: at least they’re in church.

But, why?

Well, they can honestly say they go to church, if some pollster ever asks. Instead of being like those baptized pagans who claim to be Christian and don’t bother going to church. I can see claiming to be an American, even if you never vote or participate in the political process, ‘cause this is where you live (it seems the only legitimate definition of an American these days is somebody who pays taxes). But, why claim to be a Christian, if you don’t do any of the stuff that conscientious Christians do? More people can honestly claim to be shoppers.

Why do something that has no meaning? Maybe because being “average” takes so little effort? But, average is just another word for “mediocre”; does anybody really jump out of bed in the morning to just slog thru another day, doing as little as possible? Dunno about the jumping, but clearly doing the minimum, just to get by, is something of a national sport (especially now that, thankfully, football season is over – or, is this just the brief respite between seasons?)

“Average” is a judgment, or conclusion; it should not be a goal or objective.

I’ll grant you that they are doing all they can, and just showing up for Mass might be all they can do. Actually participating, actually trying to contribute, now that’s a horse of a different color (I know all I can do is make a joyful noise during the “hymns,” but I offer that the choir, which has practiced and has the music in front of them, can barely handle some of the stuff).

If trying to try has so little value, why bother? Certainly other people notice (present company included). Do you think GOD notices? Him, who sees everything, including what other people can’t see; including what we can’t see in ourselves.

To paraphrase a story told by a Desert Father, if I was deep in prayer, I wouldn’t even notice the behavior of those around me. And I concede the point. But, I do go to Mass to be with all those other sinners because, quite frankly, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t a sinner. I fit in.

So, I ask why when I observe others because I want to know why for myself.

Do I do what I do out of habit? Or to be seen by others? Well, after years of wandering around in the wilderness, going to Mass is definitely not a habit. Every week, it is deliberate, conscious decision. But, I admit, sometimes I do go to be seen by others. In all my arrogance, I think looking like I want to be there is a good example for others: “Hey! keeping your mouth shut for an hour is not gonna kill you!” Mostly tho, I go because I am supposed to. I am a Roman Catholic, and the Church requires my attendance; when I want to be something, I follow the rules. By not following the rules, I am stating I don’t want to be something. Period. For me, no gray area there; no room for lukewarmness in practicing my religion.

And, with Lent coming up (this Wednesday is the day when, as the priest this morning put it, we get something from the Church for free: ashes), I have an official opportunity (according to the Church, the word is “obligation” – I look upon those obligations as opportunities, and I need lots of ‘em). What will I give up for Lent this year? Chocolate? Well, I kicked that habit years ago, so that doesn’t count. Last year, I fasted: nothing to eat or drink (save water) between sunrise and sunset; yeah kinda like Ramadan, but without the bacchanalial of Mardi Gras or the Ramadan Rush at the beginning and Eid al-fitr at the end. Sackcloth and ashes are always inappropriate, so that’s out (Matthew 6:17-18).

More Bible study? Maybe. Certainly will have more time: I have just been laid off.

Well, whatever I do, I should go to Church more (Lent is a good time to do penance) and pray more (I won’t try singing more: I might get arrested for disturbing the peace).

Maybe this would be a good time to ask why, as in “Why do anything at all?” Let’s see: I believe in GOD, I believe in a life after this one, I believe the purpose of this life is to prepare for the next one, and I know I’m not ready for the next life. I know I need lots of preparation. I also know (wait for it): Eternity is a long time.