Posts Tagged ‘ choices ’

Summer of horrors, or opportunity?

Some dream of high office, few ever attain it.  I can only imagine that one of the first things that anyone would do is sit in that chair behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office and just…smile.  If ever there was a time to say, “I’ve arrived,” I think that would be it.  Similarly, whatever desk and whatever office the pope occupies, I would think the man would smile like a Cheshire Cat.

Finally: the opportunity to actually make a difference, to change the world.  Surely, that aspiration would go hand in glove with the pinnacle of power.

So, while the Summer of ’08 would seem to be the summer of horrors for the White House, it is no less than the summer of horrors for the papal palace.  While one occupant is probably sincere, and the other one anything but, both are blowing their opportunity.

It has been debated whether or not we have “free will” – the ability to make truly independent choices.  I won’t discuss that here.  But whether we have unlimited choices, or very limited choices, we still have choices.  Someone in the White House obviously has choices that a coal miner doesn’t.  The Bishop of Rome has choices no one else has.  Windows of opportunity come in sizes.

Next, there would be the ability to act upon the choices we make.  If we can’t act, then they really aren’t choices – at least viable ones.  Without ability, all we have are fantasies.  Again, a topic for another day.  Yes, some do win the lottery, tho for the overwhelming majority of us, the answer to the question of “what would I do if I won the lottery?” is just a fantasy.

You need both: opportunity and ability.

I just don’t understand why it is that two people in the news every day these days are squandering their opportunity.  It is said in jest that promotion requires a lobotomy; that, somehow, while we all start off the same, elevation in power is predicated on becoming more and more forgetful of our roots.  That people at the pinnacle truly forget how they got where they are, and therefore do not truly know where they are.

It is fitting that history judges most harshly those that have forgotten it.

I just finished watching an episode of NCIS where Gibbs switches some evidence.  Gibbs is usually unfailingly honest.  Integrity his highest code.  But in this episode he demonstrates that honor is more important than integrity.  There are other opportunities in the series for him to put integrity first, and he chooses another path (almost always honor).  But he “never” loses sight of the “big picture.”  He knows what he does and why he does it.

Neither Trump nor Francis seem to have a clue why they are doing what they’re doing.  I keep coming back to a book that I read years ago: The March of Folly, by Barbara Tuchman.  In it, she picks a few examples of leaders that, had they chosen to do absolutely nothing at all, events would have turned out far different, and probably in their favor.  By being out to lunch, history would have been far kinder, maybe even salutatory.  But, no, they chose to be active in the situation, and all hell broke loose.  Three examples come to mind (it has been years since I read the book): Renaissance Popes, King George and the American Revolution, Vietnam (pick either the French or the Americans, it really doesn’t matter).

Fast forward to the Summer of 2018.  Trump did whatever he could to be elected; it worked.  Since gaining the Oval Office, he has been on a death spiral.  The only question now is whether his four years will end before he’s impeached.  After he’s out, America will breathe a sigh of relief and wonder if we have survived.  Bergoglio got elected pope and has been bouncing around like a pinball.  I don’t believe there is any mechanism to remove him from office, so we are stuck with him for awhile (as long as his health holds out, I suppose; Benedict’s resignation still doesn’t feel right, Francis’ resignation doesn’t seem possible).

Is this the era of the truly stupid leader?  Are these the times for head scratching decision making.  As in, leaders make decisions that the rest of us just wonder at.

My fantasy is that Trump will hit his head on something, rearrange all those megalomaniac brain cells, and move this country forward.  While I agree with Meghan McCain (this country has always been great), we definitely need some direction from that chair in the Oval Office.  My fantasy is that Francis will take responsibility for the predatory priests, instead of facilitating their fantasies.  I don’t know that Trump “must” resign; but I am convinced Bergoglio must.

The rest of us hoi polloi  must do more than tilt at windmills.  In politics, we must become more active and participate.  In the Church, well, we have no idea who the next pope will be, but at the local level, we owe it to the bishops to keep them on track (we don’t vote for them either; but we can close our checkbooks).

Truly, the Summer of ’08 is a summer of horrors.  But, what are we going to do with the opportunity to make this a better world for our children?  As painful as these times are now, to do nothing would be worse, for eternity is a long time.

(Thanks to Georg Weigel and his essay in First Things for “summer of horrors”)

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?