Posts Tagged ‘ religion ’

Flying the Flag

I have never actually counted, but I bet I have sent more email to the White House in the past five months than the total of any form of communication to anyone in politics in my entire life.  And, this is coming from someone who was a card-carrying Democrat, and knocked on doors for the likes of Jimmy Carter, Mo Udall and Hubert Humphrey.

It is nice (and I pat myself on the back) that I am, once-again, interested in how this country is governed.

In the last few days, there have been a flood of videos on the recent overseas trip of the President and First Lady.  (A far cry from the “news” coverage of 40 years ago.)  What has really surprised me was how well they represented the United States.  A real class act.

I really don’t want the form of media (print vice video) to become the story; but maybe it is because we can see for ourselves, and are not subject to somebody else’s interpretation – word choice, column-inches – that we are getting a much better picture (sorry for the pun).

In days past, if the Grand Poobah wanted to show a modicum of respect for Our Dear Friend in the Middle East, he/they might actually visit instead of thumbing their nose.  The President and Mrs Trump not only visited the Wailing Wall, they showed immense respect for  Israel, and also for the Jewish religion.  Gold stars.

Visiting Italy, their visit with the Pope was a model for others to follow (especially the former occupants of the White House).  Kudos.

And surprise, surprise – something that somehow never came up during the Mother of all Campaigns last year – the First Lady is a practicing Roman Catholic!  Even had a Rosary handy for the pope to bless.

Politico.com carried an AP photo showing Ivanka Trump at Sant Egidio – I’ll bet no one in the Obama White House knows, even now, where that is (I met Pope Benedict XVI there).  Ivanka’s meeting is all the more significant knowing she and Jared are practicing Jews.  Put another way, religion is a good thing in the Trump White House, while Clinton never had anything good to say about any religion (other than Islam, of course).

+++

Honestly, when Barak Obama was elected, I thought: finally, a president who is not a middle-aged, white male.  He was nothing but a disappointment.  Eight years of wondering why he didn’t focus on the really important stuff.  I feel like he hijacked the White House.  And, what did Michelle do in those eight years?  I don’t remember a single thing.

The Trumps, on the other hand, will make it so easy to forget their predecessors.  If, their predecessors can resist “coincidental” visits (both groups in Italy at the same time?  really?).  I will spare any comments at how refined Mrs Trump looked, especially when compared with Mrs Obama, last week.

+++

I will grant you that I am not tickled pink with everything Mr Trump is doing.  Yes, deportations are significantly up when compared to the past.  Which means that more bad guys are being discovered and deported; but it also means that more people who are honest, hard-working, tax-paying residents are also being deported.  This is nothing if not a waste of valuable resources.  Timothy McVey was a citizen – too bad we could not have deported him to someplace like North Korea.  Yes, Mr President: continue to use ICE to deport the bad guys; but leave the other-wise innocent alone.

A wall between us and Mexico?  Really?  How about we give those folks every reason to stay home by not buying the drugs that finance their own bad guys?

Encourage your wealthy buddies to find other sources for their megabucks than raping the environment.  Yes, West Virginia is one of those “fly-over” states; but maybe you should see what King Coal has done to the people there.  Ask Elon Musk for advice; he seems to be thinking past today, and making money.

+++

Gil Student, “Ivanka, Jared, and the Jewish Sabbath,” First Things, 5-24-17

A Tyranny of Choice

In his most recent column, Sam Guzman talks about this age of choice. One of his topic headings is “The Religion of Choice.”  My instant gut-reaction was, “it’s more like the tyranny of choice” (with apologies to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his “Tyranny of Relativism” – which may not be all that different, come to think of it).

Now, I am just ornery enough to look at society in this day and age and immediately dismiss it.  Basically, if “everyone” wants it, I don’t.  Yeah, sounds an awful lot like our two-year olds.  But, I see so much crap these days that it seems like an automatic response to just turn around and walk away.

While we don’t watch commercial tv at home, my job requires that I am aware of the latest breaking news world-wide.  Consequently, I see more tv at work than I can stand.  And, since I work at night, it is “late night tv” – the very worst of a genre.  If anything is worse than most of what is on the internet, it is late night tv – was life so terrible 40 years ago when the few tv stations “signed off” at night?  But, I digress.

I am reminded of a book I read in high school: “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor,” by Jerry della Femina.  I see our consumer society divided into parts like: (1) those who create new products, (2) those that market new products, and (3) those that buy new products.  Whatever the merits of that system, my point is that anyone of the three groups does have a choice.  Put another way, just because you see it on late night tv and you can get two of ‘em for $19.95 (operators are standing by), it doesn’t mean you are being forced to buy it.

But, for some reason, we apparently feel we don’t have a choice (thus, the “tyranny”).  I see religion as a matter of choice (don’t throw stones just yet); not choice as a matter of religion.  So, I depart from Sam in characterizing choice as a religion.  I realize he is making the case that true, honest-to-GOD religion (i.e., belief in GOD) has been largely replaced by a “smorgasbord, a veritably unlimited menu of options.”  However, while it does seem that most of the people I know are making largely unconscious decisions in the “vast mall of choices,” I certainly do not.

Yeah, I am prone to agonizing – spending lots of time – over decisions.  I have been thinking about buying a new computer.  But, while I have reviewed a few (most recently a comparison between a Windows-based laptop and an Apple Mac), I just can’t force myself to spend the money to buy what would be essentially a toy.  The fact is, I don’t actually need a new computer.  So, the first hurdle is “want” versus “need.”

The second hurdle for me is “Where was it made?”  I frankly don’t care where the executives of a particular company live; what I do care about is where the workers live.  Although my parents are “white-collar,” their parents were not.  So, my wife and I drive two Toyotas – both “made” (i.e., assembled) right here in the Good Ol’ U.S. of A.  That said, I don’t believe a single computer is assembled here, and certainly none of the parts are made here.  (Yes, I do own a cell phone, but that comes under the “need” category.)  When it comes to clothing, if it is made in China, I walk away.  Needing (yes, needing) a battery-powered drill (screwdriver), I recently bought a pair from DeWalt; even though they were considerably more expensive than the variously colored competition on the shelf/on-line.  Last year, I bought a toolbox for my pickup truck; I went with “Weathergard.”  Again, because of where they were made.  Conscious, deliberate decisions.

And now that I have two Munchkins under foot, I ask myself what I will be leaving them.  Do I want to buy cheap now, knowing it won’t last; or do I want to bequeath something of value?  In the world of values, what do I want to teach them (and, GOD willing, what will they learn)?  Do I want to impress upon them the attitude of, whatever it is, it can be easily discarded and replaced?  In fact, I do see value in commitment, in staying the course, loyalty (the hardest concepts for me to learn).

Sadly, I was seduced years ago by the view that it was better for the kids to divorce than it was for warring parents to try to raise them.  Knowing what I know now, my first marriage would likely have ended in divorce eventually; but at the time, I had not looked very closely at my options – I simply did not perform the “due diligence” I now feel I should have.  Part of that process (which should have included reading Venerable Archbishop Sheen’s “Three to Get Married”) should have entertained the possibility that divorce would forever rupture my relationship with my daughter (other than cashing the checks I send her for her birthday and Christmas, she will have nothing to do with me).

While the parallels between being a consumer of stuff and a consumer of relationships (more specifically, marriage) seem very close, they are galaxies apart.  It really doesn’t matter if I buy a screwdriver that won’t and I reduce it to a pry-bar or chisel (shudder); but it really does matter if I do everything I can (and more) to stay married.  It matters to my wife, it matters to our kids and it matters most of all to GOD.  And, I guess, ultimately, it matters to me: my salvation absolutely depends on my relationship to GOD.

Stay the course.  Run the race.  Keep the faith.

Oh, the above comment, “I see religion as a matter of choice,” I meant just as a literary device.  To be perfectly honest (and clear), I am convinced that Faith is a gift we are given – it’s not something we make an intellectual decision about.

“A Vow of Stability: A Call to Commitment in an Age of Choice,” Sam Guzman on “The Catholic Gentleman”

Slim-to-none

With the Twins celebrating their second month with us, and their increasing physical, tangible, auditory (and occasional olfactory) presence in our lives, I am spending more time thinking about their future. And having come to the recent conclusion that Faith is a gift from GOD, I find myself praying that GOD will give them lots.

Of course, when I started reading the Bible – I mean really reading it – I at first enjoyed reading about the “stiff necked and hard hearted” Israelites. Very much of a “I’m glad I’m not like them” point of view. More reading and that opinion shifted to “how could they be so, so, obtuse?” They had GOD with them every day and every night. My good friend, Bugs Bunny, might be inclined to say: “What a maroon.”

Readers of the Divine Office might recall “Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert.” (Psalm 95)

Thankfully, I have grown over time (being late to the party and a slow learner notwithstanding) and I have come to the conclusion that “stiff necked and hard hearted” applies to this generation as much as, if not more than it did to those ancient wanderers. So much for being able to point my finger at others. But, why are some people so full of faith and others so bereft? We all have ten toes, why not the same amount of faith?

Those given an abundance of faith we call saints, and some of those the Church officially recognizes. Then the lukewarm hoi polloi. Continuing down the sliding scale, we get to those that were not gifted: the slim-to-none. It wasn’t too long ago (not long enough) that I would have put myself in that third bucket. Then, as I have shared elsewhere in these pages, I woke up and smelled the coffee; hopefully I have progressed up, past the lukewarm.

But, how about my loved ones? I don’t have much difficulty in accepting that people I will never meet don’t believe, and therefore won’t be saved; but what of those that I care about? I would guess my family is a fair cross-section of humanity, and considering how they spend Sunday morning, I won’t be seeing very many of them on the other side of the grave. (A great man of my past (Reverend Joe) once said that regardless of whether I got to heaven, or hell, I would be surprised by two things: those people who were there, and those who weren’t.)

It just isn’t fair!

I completely accept that faith is a gift from GOD that is unequally distributed. So, I know people that are in the race to get to Heaven with their shoelaces tied together (that used to be me, but no more). I know people that are given just one talent, and I might know some that have been given two, or five talents. And, I appreciate that, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:15-29) But, when it comes to faith, this seems to me to be stacking the deck.

If the servant who was given five talents (lots of faith) goes to heaven, what of the servant who buries his one talent? Maybe the parable was less about the gift, and more about what we choose to do with the gifts we receive?

But, for those that are not given any faith, how can they be held accountable for not believing?

In my “day job” (which is, of course, at night) I interact with about a dozen others. And, they spend a reasonable amount of time talking to each other, about, as you would guess, things not at all job related. In the past, when the topic turned to religion, I have turned a deaf ear. That would mean either cranking up the music in my headphones, or leaving the room. My co-workers are not kindred spirits, especially when it comes to religion.

Over the past few weeks, I have turned off the music and stayed in the room, and have bitten my tongue. A saint might be able to engage in the discussion, but I am no saint, so I keep my mouth shut. I do listen. And, I am amazed at their opinions. It’s not a matter of seeing two sides of the same coin. It is not that the world is wearing bifocals (Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy). I simply don’t understand how they can reach such different conclusions, have such different opinions. It would be easy to say they are ignorant; but I am certainly no rocket scientist (although, “brains,” too are not given out in equal measure).

Since I do believe I do hear Jesus standing at the door to my heart, and I do believe I am trying to open the door to my heart, I have to ask: “Why me?” Why do I hear Him knocking, and so many others do not? Perhaps I got five talents worth of faith? Perhaps.

But, as I hold these two brand new bundles that have been entrusted to me, I ask myself how I can help them grow close to GOD. If they have been given very little faith, how much can I help? Yes, I do lose sleep over this.

I also pray more.

Revelation 3: 15“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot.* I wish you were either cold or hot. 16* So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17* i For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire* so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.j  20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.*

So, you think your life is “interesting?” Part 1

Last week I somehow found myself at Lisa Bonchek Adams’ website/blog. Sadly, I also discovered she had lost her struggle with cancer. I have started trying to digest what she shared; tho knowing where her journey took her makes her story anything but “light” reading. Compelling, yes; light, no.

By comparison – I have no known physical maladies – my life is a cakewalk. But of course, that could change tomorrow; or even be irreversibly changing as I type these words. Why wait for what insurance companies call a “life event”? Why wait to blog until after the writing mysteriously appears on the wall, for it most certainly will. Someday.

I hear the bell now.

I had a good job, a loving wife, a spiritual/religious life that was being enriched daily.

I found her rather late in life – a lot of water under my bridge. Apparently, I wasn’t ready for marriage/fatherhood when I had tried that vocation before. (As I am sure the daughter of my first marriage would eagerly attest to.)

Active in the Church in high school, I took a left turn at Albuquerque and wandered around in the wilderness for far too long. Thanks to Pope St John Paul II and Fr Jack, a Roman Catholic priest, I woke up and smelled the coffee.

Then, our daughter, who walked out the front door two years ago without so much as a good-bye (or good riddance), came back last fall. Pregnant.

In October, our prayers were answered and my wife got pregnant. I thought she was pretty buoyant before; now her feet didn’t even touch the ground.

Two months ago, in January, our daughter delivered the cutest, most precious little boy GOD ever created. The little guy could not be loved more.

Well, the “good” in “good job” means that the job I had paid well; but, it was only a job, a paycheck, nothing more (yeah, quoth the Raven nevermore). In 2014, it looked like I could hang onto the paycheck until I decided I couldn’t justify spending any more of my life for it. In February, I received a “60 Day Advance Notice of Layoff” – aka a WARN notice. Ok, fine. The job paid the bills and then some; but that gravy-train was pulling into the station and not pulling out again.

Great timing.

In 2014, 2015 was looking like a good year. That is, a year when finances would not be issues. In March, 2015 is looking like adding three mouths on no paycheck. “Good” doesn’t leap to mind; “unknown” does (as in “there be dragons”).

I would never have called my life “boring” (I think that word should be reserved for those with extremely limited imaginations; I am never bored, tho I am sure many have called me boring). As an engineer, planning and problem solving are second nature for me. Lately, I have felt that all the boats I had lined up for crossing to the beaches at Normandy had sunk. I am way past “Plan B.” I look out at the horizon and see nada. Abraham Lincoln is given credit for saying, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction I had nowhere else to go.” I know the feeling.

Since I had started this blog years ago (and added to it only sporadically), I got the bolt out of the blue to share this part of my life-long journey with anyone who cares to read it. I figure losing my job in the same year as I am adding three babies qualifies as a life event. Not the magnitude of Lisa’s, of course – there is no comparison that way. But, just as we should not forget Lisa, or Farkhunda, the Afghan woman beaten and burned to death, it would seem that there might be some people – the three new kiddies in the house – who might wonder who I was. Maybe how I did it; you know, kept it all in one sack. Yeah, lots of assumptions, there.

It’s not that I think I have answers. If you’re reading this because you think I do, then I will ask you to leave now. I see no point in you wading through my prose to finally tell you that there was no butler (I’m partial to Colonel Mustard, myself). I will go so far as to say I have no idea what most of the questions are. If you believe in feedback, or dialogue, feel free to chime in and suggest yet another something I have overlooked, or was otherwise oblivious to (I wonder how Churchill would get that pesky “to” off the end of that sentence; surely he would not put up with…well you know how that goes).

I can’t imagine that it needs to be said; or rather, that you, Gentle Reader, need me to say it: this ain’t no Dickens. Oh, I would love it if I could get paid for my writing – especially by the word. How he was able to write his novels in installments, never being able to go back and revise is quite beyond me. Quite. So, while this blog is a narrative, an “emerging design” as was said many times during the master’s program I took eons ago, it will be honest. No bets on how cohesive, however. There will be flashbacks. There will be repetition. And not as literary devices. Not by design, but by stupid (doesn’t “design by stupid” sound better than “stupid design?). I will hopefully not have too many typos, er, misspellings. Grammar will be suspect.

Oh, the biggie: if I say something noteworthy, it is probably the work of someone else – not me. If I fail to give any credit, or proper credit, puh-leez correct me. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

The Lonely Dragon

My father once said he’d often been alone, but he’d never been lonely. As a professional writer his entire adult life, he always chose his words with precision. But, I never learned his secret of how to not be lonely. Alone is easy: I have been alone on an aircraft carrier; alone on a crowded street (to borrow the cliché); in fact, I prefer alone – as I believe most writers do. And, as I grow older, I find I work harder to achieve a state of being alone. Lonely is another matter entirely.

Apparently our old friend, Billy Shakespeare, used it first when Coriolanus goes to a lonely dragon. Then, on this side of the pond, Thoreau says that we are more lonely when we are among men. More recently Pirsig reiterates the idea of being completely alone, even with others.

What is interesting is that my father volunteered that he had never been lonely; and he never volunteered much, especially about himself. Yes, that does beg the question.

For my part, being lonely was a constant companion. Whereas I seek solitude, and peace and quiet (during Eucharistic Adoration today, a couple sitting directly behind me – I learned as I left, an elderly couple (their whispering was meant for the stage) – kept up a constant conversation – great Penance for me), loneliness is like unwittingly stepping in dog shit and not being able to scrape it off: the stench is as persistent as it is pungent (I must admit that I have never knowingly stepped in it, so I guess “unwittingly” is redundant?). Do I need to mention unpleasant?

I don’t know why my father wrote; he had the uncharacteristic inconsideration to die before I learned to talk to him. He once said that the only thing he ever feared was the empty page. I write to feel less lonely, and I revel in the empty page (or rather, I revel in filling the empty page).

My spiritual growth blossomed early and then took a detour in the desert, and recently has, thank GOD, returned to an oasis where it has, once again, blossomed. Very much a version of, “there, but for the Grace of GOD, go I”; but that subject is for another day. And with this renewal, the lonely dragon has evidently been vanquished. But, Dad was not what I would call a “GOD fearing man”; respectful, yes; conscious, yes; but neither Mom (my Roman Catholic roots) nor Dad spent much time on religion outside of church. So, I find it hard to imagine that Dad found strength in his Faith – not impossible, mind you: I am sorry to say I never knew him well (which, fittingly, my daughter could easily say about me; if she cared, that is).

Whereas, I was jerked back into consciousness, out of the stupor of wanting to be part of the American dream, when Pope John Paul II died. Perhaps it was a miracle that I was found – I was most definitely a lost sheep (of Biblical proportions, I assure you), but I think not. And having discarded so much desire of wanting to be part of the rat race, I began to hear Christ knocking on the door. Yeah, still a lot of work before I get the door open (the hinges are rusted shut), but I find I am no longer lonely. Dad may have exiled the dragons with his command of the written word (and, bully for him, if true); I have found peace in the Word of GOD.

2014 has all the signs of being a watershed year for me, and I have known a few. After 29 years with “The Company”, the position I have had the past six months is moving south. In one way, it is literally moving from Puget Sound to Southern California. In another way, this “crown jewel” of the company (to use the words from some high muckety-muck), is going south, as in down the tubes. Which puts me in the position of trying to find another paycheck; or, letting them put me out to pasture and thanking GOD that I don’t drink their Kool-Aid (the company, very characteristically has promised the press that it will help everyone find employment, and since I long ago learned not to believe either the company or the press, I am not putting all my eggs in that handbasket).

I had planned on working for another five, or ten years, which makes this news something of a fiscal shock. The desire to retire from the rat race and the ability to retire from it could not be more stark; but, Dad financed the raising of five kids on his pen (Mom raised us, but Dad paid the bills); surely, with far fewer mouths to feed, I can do the same? Besides, I look forward to having the time to explore the spiritual side of life, instead of chasing the temporal side of life. However, the habit of pursuing a paycheck for the past 43 years will be hard to discard.

There be dragons?

Yes, there may be dragons; but maybe it is time I left a sinking ship.