Monday, February 27, 2006

Pick a different tree!

The ESPN tree...I knew all along that God was a sports all I have to do is convince my wife.

In his book, Faith and You, Terry Pluto reflects in an essay on the story of Adam and Eve, their ill-advised decision of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and the notion that there were probably a whole lot of other trees in the garden from which they could have chosen to receive joy and satisfaction. Pluto writes, "God gives all of us a lot of trees in life... it's ok to enjoy ourselves, and most importanly, He wants us to enjoy a LIFE of faith...and realize that even though life can be demanding and a frustrating place at times...there are many times when life is good, when the blessings flow!" (Faith and You, page 10)

This is such a refreshing idea. I think too often that many of us get caught up in what we're not allowed to do in life; it seems like we tend to get a "list" of things that are forbidden- whether at home, work, or church. At work, my contract has a ton of restrictive clauses- most of which are simply common sense. Likewise, growing up, my father certainly had his list of forbidden behaviors-usually focused around a "harmonic" relationship with my siblings. Similarly, it seems like I'm constantly telling Josh and Marie what they are not allowed to do. And certainly, the church has always provided us with a "moral compass", most notably the Ten Commandments. So with all the regulations of what not to do, what can we do...Simple- stay clear from the Forbidden tree(s), pick another one that will bring us closer to Christ, and embrace the life that God has given us as an incredible gift.

Pluto does caution us that most things done to excess can certainly become sinful (even the ESPN tree)- but I think his overall point is that it may be just as sinful to live out our lives and not cherish/ ignore all the different gifts that are around us- our children, spouse, friends, a good book, music, and yes- even sports (just a little bit) ...although, it would be kind of nice if God would send His blessings down on the Chief Wahoo tree- just once in my lifetime!

This reminds me of a powerful scene in Alice Walker's novel, The Color Purple. Shug Avery, a type of Mary Magdeline character, makes the pronouncement that she thinks it "angers" God to walk past the color purple and not take's one of the most vibrant colors in the world, and it probably offends God when we take things for granted and allow his creations to go unnoticed. It's like the color is shouting to us..."Hey you, look over here! I'm the color purple! Pretty cool, huh?" I would imagine that God would appreciate every so often a little admiration.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

40 Days of Lent

Growing up Catholic and attending a parochial grade school, I have many vivid memories of Lent as a kid...

  1. Racking my brain on Fat Tuesday thinking what to "give up" for the next 40 mind you, for an 11 or 12 year old, this took careful planning. Not watching TV always sounded good until the 2nd week went by, and then it dawned on me that I had to to go almost another 4 weeks of no Johnny Socko and the Flying Robot/ Ultraman/ Speedracer episodes after school.
  2. Thinking it was such a hardship to not eat meat on Friday...which it kind of was if you ever tasted my mom's tuna fish casserole! Looking back on it, I also remember eating quite a bit of shrimp on Fridays- hardly a sacrifice.
  3. Attending Ash Wednesday services at school and then comparing the "smudge-mark"on each other's foreheads all day long with my buddies. We always had a contest who could leave theirs on the longest throughout the week....I think some kid named Toby won- I also remember him having some serious body odor.
  4. Sitting in the church pews with my classmates, staring at the cross hanging from the altar, and being scared to death what I was going to say when I was next in line for confession. Everybody in class usually tried to help each other out by passing notes of "usable sins" that we could convey to the priest if we were really stuck- most of which are not "bloggable" here...
  5. Strumming my $40.oo nylon string folk guitar for school liturgies and meticulously playing/ singing over and over again the tune, "These 40 days of Lent O Lord" with our beloved principal, Sr. Dorothy. She'd keep us in church all afternoon long, which little did she know was our secret plan to get out of school work, until we sounded just right.
  6. Bringing home my personal "operation rice bowl". I remember assembling this little cardboard box that had a bunch of pictures of 3rd world children all over the outside of it. The first couple of nights, our family would usually have it somewhere in sight around supper time, but as Lent wore on, the box tended to disappear from both sight/ mind. I would scramble during Holy week to relocate it and shove a bunch of loose coins in it to bring it back to school for the offering. I shamefully admit that I missed the whole point of this one as a youngster.
  7. Attending the Stations of the Cross. The priest and the altar boys would go up and down the side aisles of the church, recite a small narrative/ prayer in front of each station, and then lead us in some oral response. We were often given little notebooks to record special intentions, but I distinctly remember using mine to scratch off the number of stations that had been completed...and then thinking, "Ok, just 3 more to go!"
  8. Venerating the Cross on Good Friday. This was always an intriguing ritual for me to observe. Parishioners were always welcomed to attend school church services, and I can still envision these little old ladies hobbling up to the front of the church, with canes and walkers, and then dropping to their knees to kiss the wounds of the Christ figure that had been laid at the foot of the altar. Many of us tended to giggle through this, but to this day this has remained a powerful image.
  9. Serving the Easter Vigil Mass...this was by far the "Super Bowl" of being an altar boy...or so I thought. They forgot to mention to me that something like 57 Old Testament readings are recited at this mass- all the while I had to stand next to the pulpit with my hands extended toward Heaven, as the priests used to kindly remind us. Then, there was the incense. Fr. Corrigan, God love him, was a huge fan of this stuff. I remember it bringing tears to my eyes everytime he swung it around the altar. This easily was a 2 plus hour church service.
  10. Waking up Easter Sunday morning- not real early if I had served at the Vigil Mass the night before- and looking for the infamous "basket". I'm guessing my father took delight in usually hiding mine somewhere like the trash basket or behind the commode. (Ok, I've done the same to my kids a few's funny now!) We'd usually have some eggs to find (the plastic kind w/ money or a trinket inside them) and a gift wrapped next to our basket. We'd head off for church and invariably my folks would comment on how crowded the church would be that know, the C & E Catholics. We'd come home, have a fabulous dinner together, and pretty much just hang out together as a family. Good times...until the next morning when I had to go back to school since Easter vacation was officially over. Funny...I get this same feeling today, at age 38!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

You gotta look the part...

Josh informed me that in order to be able to take karate class, he needed the white "bajamas" about intimidating!
The next Jackie Chan!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Two great short stories...

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge- anybody out there ever read this one? Ambrose Bierce, an Ohio boy from Meigs County (wherever that is) tells an eerie tale of a Southern plantation owner who is captured by Union troops, accused of espionage, and sentenced to be hanged from---you guessed it, the Owl Creek Bridge. Without giving away the ending, the story is a psychological journey as to what may go through our mind when we're at death's doorstep. Supposedly, "they" say that our senses are heightened and we tend to want to fantasize/ and even halucinate actions that we feel compelled to complete before we "cross over"...this is an easy sell to the kids because it is such a unique story with an ending that is simply shocking.

Next week the kids are going to be assigned Jack London's classic short story, To Build a Fire. This is a cool one also...a rookie prospector in the Yukon attempts a long journey on foot during an intense cold spell, with only his dog as his companion. Falling through the ice, he quickly recovers and attempts to build a fire, with frost bitten hands, before the sun goes down...or he will certainly die from the elements. Again, London's story focuses on the pysche of an individual who is confronted with death.

Bierce and London, two of the founding fathers of the Realists, are truly masterful story tellers. You really care about what happens to their characters because their stories usually center around a universal human fear/ uncertainty, like death, and believable characters whom we can truly empathize with/ show pathos towards...and in turn captivate us, the reader, till the end...(hey, at least this is the sales job I give the kids to make them do their homework!)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Karate Kid

I'm not sure who enjoyed karate class more...Josh or me. Cindy and I signed him up for the classes that are offered at the Chapel. Josh had been really anxious all week leading up to Saturday morning, and I don't think he was disappointed at all. His instructor, who I think has the patience of Job, is just awesome with the kids. There's about 10 four and five year olds in the class, and each one of them asked at least 1/2 dozen the first 10 minutes of class! My favorite one came from a little girl who was envious of the teacher's "black belt" and was all set to trade hers in for one! Between the "I need to go potty", "I can't do that!", and "When are we going to learn to punch?"...the kids had a solid lesson centered on self discipline, karate etiquette, and a few basic moves/ stances...I just love hearing Josh's barbaric yawp (good ole' Walt Whitman) of "Aiy" and "Yes Sir!"

I've always been intriqued by this sport, and I'm really excited to watch Josh as he progresses through these classes. His teacher informed us that not only does he intend to teach the kids the physical skills but also the character building that goes along with this martial arts craft. I was impressed that he ended the first lesson with a little talk on love and gave the kids a bible verse to memorize by next week...1Cor 13:13. We're suppose to help Josh devise a weekly goal to help him with this I told him that he could show his love by not karate chopping either me or the dog!!!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Strike one...and you're out?

I've been thinking about this story since Sunday, and I'm having a hard time coming to terms with the message. Our ABF discussed the fate of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5: 1-11. I admit, I was unfamiliar with this Biblical episode; I certainly had never heard any preacher sermonize on the crime of this couple nor can I remember ever covering it in my early Sunday school classes- which is probably a good thing because I'm guessing young children might not be overly receptive to this story of swift punishment.

My intitial reaction was, "Geeze, that sounds pretty harsh ...what happened to the Church's doctrine of forgiveness and giving everyone the opportunity to repent their sins?" These poor souls were struck down immediately, and no clue is given (I don't think) regarding their ultimate destiny/fate. I also found it ironic that it was Peter who confronted this couple...the same Peter who denied Christ three times. Wasn't his actions in the courtyard an act of deceit...pretending to be somebody other than that of a follower of Christ? Considering the compassion/ forgiveness that Christ showed to Peter, I wonder why this husband and wife were not offered the same opportunity for redemption?

I do understand the serious nature of Ananias and Sapphira's sin- not just lying, but deceit against God...but again, it just seems like their swift punishment contradicts what Christ called us to do as Christians in regards to showing love and mercy towards our fellow man and inviting them to become part of His church. The book of Acts can be a fascinating read for someone who is interested in learning about the early church, its heroes, and joining the Christian faith...but I don't know that I'd be quick to recommend this chapter as part of a "welcome package" into our church.

This Biblical story also reminded me of one of my favorite world literture pieces that I've taught in the past, Dante's Inferno. Interestingly enough, he too despises deceit- evidenced by the fact that he places the falsifiers in circle 8 of hell...far below the murderers, rapists, and thieves. Off hand, I can't remember their actual punishment, but I'm guessing it was pretty gruesome.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Super Bowl?

Ok, so am I the only one who was thinking to himself...are these really the two best teams in the NFL this year? The fumbles, interceptions, penalties, really bad incomplete was like I was watching a Browns game. T. Pluto wrote the other day that a Steelers win would actually benefit the Browns since a number of Pittsburgh's players who are free agents to be will now want big bucks after the Super Bowl. With the salary cap, they won't be able to keep them all. This still wasn't enough for me to root for these guys...there's only one team I despise more than the Steelers, and Steinbrenner has a quite a bit of championship hardware to taunt us pitiful Cleveland fans as well.

Also, and this may be border-line sacrilege for die-hard rock fans, but am I also the only one who was not overly impressed with the Stones' half-time show? Listening to Mick Jagger sing was just painful...All he does is bark out the lyrics and doesn't appear to have much of a tone to his voice. Now granted, I realize that he's been around for a while and is an icon in the rock world, but I'll take Guy and Kenton's rendition of King of Glory over their Super Bowl performance any day!

And then there's the a cool 2.5 million per 30 second spot. Bud Light definitely had the most humorous ones, but it's hard to believe that the marketing gurus for some of the other companies couldn't come up with more creative adds...Truthfully, the only one that I can remember, a half hour after the game, is that one...which I no idea what type of web site it is...I'll check it out later tonight.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I'm not ready for this...

As I was driving to Marie's school last night to meet with her teacher, I kept thinking..."my little girl is not old enough to go through this, yet." It seems like just yesterday I was pushing her in a stroller, feeding her with a bottle, and rocking her to sleep at night...and now, I'm being asked to attend a special meeting for all 5th grade parents about "the class" that the kids are going to begin next week---sex education.

Now granted, I certainly have talked to Marie about a number of "related" issues, but I, like many of the parents last night, were pretty surprised as to how much is covered in the 5th grade. I'm not disputing that this is not appropriate, it's just I'm having a hard time realizing that my little girl is not so little anymore.

We were shown a pretty disturbing news-clip that was run a couple of years ago by Diane Sawyer. The whole premise of the report was to show how young our kids are exposed to sex- on TV, the media, school, etc...and the "age of innocence" (which was the title of the report) is becoming younger and younger. The registered nurse who will be teaching this class contends that 5th grade is the perfect age to begin discussing with children not only the biological aspects of sex and intimacy, but also to begin meaningful dialogue with your kids about morality and values. Not exactly the light-hearted talks I usually have with Marie at the dinner table or right before bed. Is there a manual for this????

One of the reasons why I absolutely love the book The Catcher in the Rye is because Holden Caulfield's biggest worry/ also his most admirable character trait (which ultimately causes his nervous breakdown) is that his youngest sister, Phoebe, will grow up too soon and become corrupted by society. Kids need to be kids...and not have to worry about "adult-related" issues like drugs, alcohol, and sex. Let 'em watch the muppets a few more years!!!

With this said, I'll go ahead and brag that I think I've got an incredible daughter whom I love with all my heart...and I'm extremely confident that she will make wise decisions as she grows older and hopefully be able to be there for friends who may turn to her for advice later in life.