The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

ON TRUE CHARITY

When I first met Br. Thomas, OSF I was struck by the fact that he spoke infrequently and then only softly, but he listened avidly to each person who spoke and with a great intensity – as though that person’s words had the import of a final earthly utterance.  Perhaps that was natural for him or perhaps it was an acquired skill he had developed.  He had spent over twenty years ministering to those who came to the hospice that his Franciscan priory maintained for those who were dying.

I couldn’t imagine the strength of his and his brothers’ faith to be able to deal on a daily basis with those who came to that hospice – knowing that none of them had long to live and none would leave on their own.  Perhaps that is less a testament to his view of life than it is a statement about my shallowness of spirit.  This reverent man made me feel vey humble by his gentle, taciturn demeanor.

Those who minister without fanfare to the sick, the poor and the dying must hold a very special place in God’s love.  That the mendicant orders have been with us for centuries demonstrates that despite the contentious nature of so many of us, there are at least some who are willing to contribute to them so that they can carry out their much needed, good works.

Another order, The Little Sisters of the Poor which also maintains hospices, has been in the news lately because of their position regarding provisions of the ACA and their refusal to compromise their religious principles.  Like their brother Franciscans, their charity and care is not reserved to those who are Roman Catholic.  Their compassion is open to all those who are at their final moments, irrespective of creed or lack of one.

 

 

Deo gracias! Deo gracias!
Adam lay ibouden,
Bouden in a bond;
For thousand winter
Thought he not too long.
Deo gracias! Deo gracias!

And all was for an appil,
An appil that he tok,
As clerkès finden
Written in their book.
Deo gracias! Deo gracias!

Ne had the appil takè ben,
The appil takè ben,
Ne haddè never our lady
A ben hevenè quene.

Blessèd be the time
That appil takè was.
Therefore we moun singen.
Deo gracias! Deo gracias!

(Anonymous, 15th century)

At this time of year, most of us feel obligated (or if you prefer, inspired) to go out and buy presents for friends, loved ones, or ourselves.  I’ve tried to reign in the temptation to spend, spend and spend more by enacting a simple rule.  For every dollar that I spend on gifts (and I mostly now make my own rather than finding them on store shelves) I donate an equal amount to charities which truly represent the spirit of Christmas, not just at this season but throughout the year.  Nevertheless, there are some people for whom a store bought purchase seems most appropriate.

One of the sites which offers the shopper an opportunity to reduce her or his out of pocket costs is eBates.  The site allows a person to link through their site to over five hundred well known and more obscure internet retailers and earn rebates on their purchases which range between two percent and as much as fifty percent.  They also offer a program for members who refer new members in the amount of five dollars per referral.   My referral link is listed below:

http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=4cwCeH%2FFsKXfalPzt9zdgA%3D%3D&eeid=26471

If you are not familiar with the program, I encourage you to take a moment and review its features and benefits.

The reason for my making what is my first “commercial” appeal in nearly 900 posts is simple.  I will take any referral bonuses and combine them with my own contribution and donate those to The Little Sisters of the Poor – this being my designated charity for the year.  I hope you will contribute to that effort.  Or, if you’re already an eBates member, I’ve attached a link to their website so that you might read more about their good work and perhaps consider making a donation to them directly.

http://www.littlesistersofthepoor.org/

I wish all of my readers a blessed remainder of Advent and the joy of a wonderful Christmas.

Easter, 2014

“There are those who have a religious faith and those that don’t, and that has pretty much been the way it’s been throughout mankind’s history.  It’s unfortunate that people who fall into either camp disparage those who believe differently from themselves.  I think of it as philosophical racism.”

“Whether or not we have a religious orientation, I suspect that most of us, if we were to read the Pope’s remarks without knowing who the author was, would applaud his statement.  It seems foolish, if not reprehensible, to discard or demean his comments simply because they come from a religious figure while, if the same speech were given by Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela, we would applaud it as an outstanding piece of oratory.”

The above two paragraphs were a comment that I left for someone on the Huffington Post who had thoroughly denounced Pope Francis’ Easter “Urbi et Orbi” proclamation.  While I presume from the tone of the statement this person left that he or she is an atheist, the same sort of intolerance unfortunately can be found within the ranks of the religious – both towards members of other belief systems as to those who profess to having none.

If there is one thing that we who claim to be Christians (in whatever form that may take) should most remember at Easter particularly, but throughout the year as well, it is that if you look at the three year ministry of Jesus, he drew everyone to Himself without regard to their physical condition, their status in society or their financial situation.  Much of that message appeared in Francis’ speech at the Vatican.

Easter is a time for renewal and optimism.  So let’s hope before we celebrate it again next year, each of us will be filled with the message of tolerance and love for one’s neighbors that Jesus taught and that we may find that next year the people of the earth are more at peace with one another and with God.

HUMILITY

foot washing

 

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  – Matthew 25: 40 (KJV)

 

 

As we prepare to celebrate the most holy period of the Christian calendar I wanted to take the time to wish all my readers a blessed Easter and the hope that all of us will focus on those things that are truly important, remembering that all else will eventually “pass away.”

NATIVITY

A Merry and Blessed Christmas to all!

THE OLD COUPLE AND THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

It was probably three years ago last spring that I first noticed them.  They were an old couple in their late 70’s, walking hand in hand down the street – out for their evening stroll.  It was early evening as Gracie and I drove by on the way to the dog park and I remember an involuntary smile coming over my face as I saw this little expression of their affection for each other.

Although I’ve only seen them while driving, I feel as though I know them well.  Their faces, heavily creased by their years speak volumes about the lives they have led.  I am certain that they come from eastern Europe because they have the sad look of those who have spent most of their lives in a totalitarian state.  Perhaps they are from a former Soviet Socialist Republic, Ukraine or Georgia.

I’ve met many people over the years who escaped from the grip of communist regimes, from Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Latvia.  They are grateful for their freedom.  But the years that they spent being told how to live and what to think are so deeply ingrained that their new found freedom does not seem to be able to completely overcome these early formative memories.  It always shows in their eyes.

One day I saw Vladimir, or so I’ve named him, walking without his wife whom I’d named Olga.  As I drove by my heart missed a beat as I worried whether Olga were ill or had passed away.  And then I didn’t see either of them for more than a month.  If I knew where they lived I would have stopped by to see if there were anything that I could do for them.

Fortunately, a few weeks later I saw them once again walking down the street, hand in hand.  I remember breathing a sigh of relief.  All was well.  There they were, with that same slightly tired look on their weather worn faces.

When I first moved to Las Vegas I was amazed at the gusto with which people decorated their homes in honor of the Holidays.  The Thanksgiving leftovers had barely been put away when my neighbors’ front lawns were filled with step ladders and plastic inflatable penguins and reindeers and strips of light were being put up on the eaves of the houses.

There was little in all this which suggested Christmas – no crèches or angels or wise men – but to each his own.  There was at least a spirit of celebration.  But I’ve noticed that over the last few years that has changed.  And I see on the faces of my neighbors fewer smiles and more visages that resemble those borne by my old couple, faces filled with care and tiredness.

While in years past virtually everyone made an attempt to decorate his home with some sort of display, it is amazing that as I pulled into the gate this evening I was struck by how dark the neighborhood looked.  The only lights came from the street lamps.  I doubt this is in deference to any sort of political correctness which sucks out the joy from all celebrations unless they are found on the approved list.

No, I suspect that this lack of enthusiasm reflects the sense of malaise that emanates from Washington.  That a majority of us now believe that we are led by a man whom we do not believe is honest and that even more of us believe to be incompetent and that we are coming to believe we have lost our direction and, in large measure, have lost a sense of hope.

While the war on Christmas continues unabated in our school programs and in our public displays, those of us who still believe in the miracle of humility – which is the essence of the Holy Day – can look for the old couple in our own neighborhoods, holding hands as they slowly walk down the street and remember that as long as there is one person who is grateful for the holiday we call Christmas, hope is still alive and can still work miracles – if we are willing to receive them.

HEROES AND ZEROS

It was Sunday in the late fall and my parents waited for their ten year old to finish Sunday school so that we could go home for a nice lunch.  Because Mom and Dad paid close attention to me, they knew when I wasn’t feeling my usual perky self.  And that Sunday was one of those days.

We had been given the assignment of learning the Ten Commandments for that Sunday’s class and I had done my assignment well, although I wasn’t quite sure what that adultery one was all about.  But during our recitation of them, I was really struck by the first one – and that was what had caused my bad attitude – “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”

Suddenly during class it struck me.  I wanted to be God but I couldn’t be – and I thought that was annoyingly unfair.  I didn’t realize it at the time but this was my introduction to hubris – although I wasn’t familiar with the word and certainly had no idea what it meant.

I remember that over the next several weeks as I recited my childhood prayers, rather than beginning with Heavenly Father, I might have better addressed them To Whom It May Concern.  After all, by praying to God I was merely admitting to my subordinate status and empowering a Deity who was, by definition, already empowered.  I was caught in the Charlie Brown and the football syndrome.

Fortunately, I got help with my conundrum.  After several days of allowing me to stew on my own, one night after dinner my parents sat me down to ask what was bothering me.  What they said isn’t important.  It was the very act of taking the time and showing their concern and love that got me started back on the right path.

Well, I grew up and got over my God-envy.  As I thought about it, I really didn’t feel that I was qualified for the job, nor did I want the responsibility.  There were just far too many sparrows to look after – and they seemed easier to deal with than most of the humans I encountered along the way.

It’s a difficult and narrow path between wanting to be important and believing that everything you touch, do or say is an achievement by virtue of the fact that you touched, did or said it.  Perhaps that is a lesson that has never been learned by those who believe that their only hope of attaining fame is by breaking the rules that God and society have laid down for us to follow.  Maybe that is the ultimate consequence of the kind of hubris that I experienced as a child.

We live in a society where those who come from traditional families and hold to traditional values are soon going to be moved to the “endangered species list.”  Those who celebrate the change to the “do it if it feels good” syndrome rejoice in their newly found freedom.  We find them in sports, politics and Hollywood.  These are our new gods and the role models we have offered our children.

Should we be surprised when we read stories about professional athletes on trial for murder; those in office who betray the public trust by committing  financial fraud; or television stars overdosing on heroin?  Should we be surprised that we are raising children who take out their anger by killing their teachers or shooting their classmates?

There are heroes in our society, people who conduct themselves with quiet dignity and respect for their fellow men.  Most of those go unsung and unnoticed.  They are people who never hesitate to give and are a little embarassed to receive.  They are people whom we would love to have as friends and neighbors.

And there are those who have never grown out of their God-envy complexes, who flash their way across our news stories for a moment and then are as quickly forgotten.  They are people who never give of themselves but expect the adulation, praise and gifts of others – and whatever they receive is never enough.  They are people whom we would avoid as acquaintances.  They are zeros.

And we all know that if at the end of the day the scoreboard has a tally of zero by your name, you need to work on improving your game.

GRATITUDE

I remember the evening that Mr. Reynolds came to our apartment.  My parents had scheduled an appointment with him for 7:30.  By then the dining room table would have been cleared, the dishes washed and dried and I should have completed my homework.  I was eleven years old.

Mr. Reynolds sold a product called the “Encyclopedia Britannica.”  It was, by far the largest compendium of knowledge available to the average person.  My parents, who believed that the more a person learned the farther in life he or she might go, were assessing the possibility of purchasing a set for me.  My parents knew that the set was expensive but they did not know the exact cost until Mr. Reynolds revealed that during his meeting.

We sat at the dining room table and Mr. Reynolds brought out his sales literature.  He explained how so many people, experts in their field, had all contributed to the encyclopedia.  And he also explained that there was an annual update which was published and that by purchasing the set, we would receive the next edition of it at no charge.  Thereafter there would be a small fee for each additional update as it was shipped.

My parents looked at me and asked whether I would use this reference library if they decided to purchase it for me.  I knew that I would but I had heard them discuss the price with Mr. Reynolds.  It was several hundred dollars – by far the largest gift that I had ever received.  And I was feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of the present.

I think my parents both knew that I would actually use the encyclopedia and had a sense of my feeling of awe, so although I couldn’t do much more than nod in assent to their question, they took that as a definite, “Yes.”  We selected the dark green faux-leather binding with gold stamped lettering for our set.

Mr. Reynolds expertly completed the paperwork and my father signed it while mother went to her desk drawer to retrieve the checkbook and give him the deposit on the set.  The balance that was due would be billed monthly over the next twenty-four months – but since my parents didn’t like owing money, I knew that this obligation would be retired long before then.  In fact I had a plan to help pay for it.

It was nearing the end of the school year and I had read in “The Herald Tribune” that a bookseller by the name of Barnes & Noble purchased used school textbooks.  Each of us students were given our various texts as part of our tuition fee.  And I remembered that the previous year on the last day of school as I was gathering my school materials, all of the waste baskets were filled with texts that other students had discarded.

I asked my home room teacher, Miss Green if I would be allowed to collect these and take them home and explained the reason that I wanted them.  Miss Green said that she would speak with the school’s principal, Mr. Tiffany but was quite sure that he would approve.

Miss Green was true to her word and two days later told me that would be fine and I had the principal’s permission.  So my next step was to commandeer Grandma’s wire grocery cart so that I could transport all these books the two blocks from my school to our apartment.  Of course, grandma, always a practical person, thought that this was a wonderful idea.  In fact she went to the grocery store in advance of my engaging in the project and secured a number of cardboard boxes so that we could package the books for the bookstore.

Well, the last day of school arrived and I set to work, racing home to get the grocery cart and then back to school.  Foolishly, I fully loaded up the cart but was unable to maneuver it down the school’s stairs.  So I had to unload half of the books so that I could manage the cart.  I left them in the stairwell and I hoped that none of the faculty would see them there.

I quickly wheeled my stash home to our apartment and grandma helped me unload it.  Then back to school to retrieve the books I had unloaded and back home again.  In total I made six trips, but the later ones took me longer as I had to go from classroom to classroom to load up.  It seemed that there was a never ending supply of textbooks

Although I had not gone to every classroom and was sure that there were more textbooks I could retrieve, I was too tired even to consider a seventh expedition and had to be content with the books I had procured.

Grandma and I arranged these in the boxes she had brought home and my father agreed to drive to Barnes & Noble the following day, which was a Saturday.  I think he was a little amused that I had put in so much effort, perhaps thinking that all that work might result in a five or ten dollar return.

Barnes & Noble was located a short distance from my father’s business.  Dad had some paperwork that he wanted to get out of the way so he said that after we had sold the books he would buy me lunch at the little Italian sandwich shop that was down the street from his office.  I was all in favor of that as they made a terrific eggplant parmesan sandwich in a robust marinara sauce.

So we got to the bookstore and started to unload.  But most of the boxes were too heavy for me to lift.  So dad went in and found the department that purchased used textbooks.  He began carrying the boxes in and when he returned he came out with a young employee who helped him carry all the books inside while I stood vigilant, guarding the books that were still in our car’s trunk.

When we were finished, my father locked the car and we went inside where the clerks were figuring the purchase value of my treasure.  With the extensive collection this took a little while – and then the manager of that department said to my father, “We will pay you $180.50 for these books, if that’s acceptable.”

I’m not sure who was more stunned – my father or me.  That was nearly the balance that was still due on my Encyclopedia Britannica (my parents had sent in more than the minimum payment each month).  So we gratefully accepted the cash from Barnes & Noble  and drove to his office.  After about an hour my father finished his paperwork and said that it was lunchtime.

Since I was now feeling extremely wealthy (although dad was holding the money in his wallet) I offered to pay for our meal.  After thinking about it for a moment, he accepted my invitation.  And so we walked to Marco’s where I had eaten on several previous occasions.

As the lunch was going to be on me I upgraded myself from the eggplant parmesan and decided to try the meatball sub.  This was a grave decision as it was one of the pricier items on the menu ($1.45).  Like the eggplant it was fantastic and extremely filling and exceptionally sloppy to eat requiring at least eight of those little napkins that the stainless steel container which sat on our table dispensed.  Despite my efforts to be neat and even with all those napkins I still had to visit the facilities when we finished to wipe the marinara sauce off my hands and face.

Buying my father lunch that day was the only part of my new found money that my parents would accept.  I tried to get them to use the rest to pay for the Encyclopedia Britannica but they refused and took the remaining money and put it in my savings account.

The fact that I had planned on contributing whatever we got from selling the books, however, gave the encyclopedia added value to me.  And although I had spent some time with it, I now began reading it in earnest.

One of our neighbors, Mr. Benson was English and an executive with BOAC.  He had a subscription to National Geographic and was discarding some old issues on the floor of our incinerator (yes, we burned garbage in those and got the whole Global Warming thing started), when I asked if I might have them.  He gladly gave them to me and as he finished each new edition left it at our apartment door.

I was fascinated with the photos and the descriptions of the lives and customs of people from all around the world.  How differently they lived from us.  And so I started to read more about these foreign places in my Britannica.

After a lot of reading it suddenly struck me.  How lucky I was to have been born in America and not the Belgian Congo or Azerbaijan, Ceylon or Outer Mongolia.  I doubted that most of the kids there had books that they could resell and I was almost certain that Barnes & Noble didn’t have offices in any of those places to purchase them.  And those kids would never have a chance to enjoy either the meatball sub or eggplant parmesan at Marco’s.

I would like to acknowledge my friend Charlie for sending me the email which contained the YouTube video you will find below.  That provided the inspiration for this post.  It is a recording of Miss Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” for the first time it was ever performed publicly.  The song had been written some twenty years earlier by Irving Berlin but he had filed it away and it was never published.

This recording was made on Armistice Day, 1938 – as Hitler was moving the entire planet closer to World War II.  It was a time of trouble and a time of fear not only in America but everywhere on our little pebble in space.

Those were disquieting times as are the times we live in today.  But as I listened to this recording, which I heard Kate Smith perform many times in later years, tears came to my eyes and I thought that even with all the travail and anger and dysfunction, I’m still proud and most of all grateful to be an American.

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