Boys and Girls and Zes, Oh My!

Lucas_Cranach_d._Ä._001I went to college in the early 1970s and although it might surprise today’s students, my generation had plenty of problems to deal with.

Many of the students came to the University of Illinois (where we still had a mascot named Chief Illiniwek) to get an education. Some came to avoid the draft and Vietnam. Some came for sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.

We had anti-war demonstrations, marched about the quad for various causes and, occasionally, found the library and did our homework. The marching band did a great halftime show at football games, partially offsetting the awful performance of the team.

One of today’s controversies wasn’t part of our daily lives. We spent absolutely no time or energy worrying about gender pronouns.  If a student had to fill out a form and is asked for gender there were just two choices: male or female.

I raise this issue because some universities (University of Minnesota, for example) are thinking about requiring faculty and staff to refer to a student by the gender pronoun the student prefers – or to use a neutral pronoun: Ze.

We didn’t have anyone who wanted to be a Ze when I was in school. We really have just two categories: he and she.  Some of the more mature professors called us Mister or Miss.  And if a woman was married, they would use Mrs.

Of course, you could make a mistake.  From the back, an attractive blond woman with long hair and a blond-harried male hippy could be hard to distinguish.  But when such a mistake happened, you just apologized and laughed.

The penalty for pronoun misuse today is more serious.  An errant Minnesota Golder Gofer can be disciplined or fired. This seems ridiculous to me.

But I should pause here for a brief disclaimer. I actually have served time as a college instructor. It was as an “adjunct” professor and the two institutions where I led classes were a Catholic seminary and a Catholic college for women. There was no confusion about anyone’s gender.  In fact, the only disagreement was that the students wanted to call me either “mister” or “professor” and I insisted they just use my first name.

That doesn’t mean I’m totally naïve about the existence of people who might not seem to easily fit into a “normal” person’s image of he or she.  I dated and later married an art major at the University of Illinois. And although she is (and was then) a political conservative practicing Catholic, visiting her at the art building allowed me to encounter humans of many varied forms who were intent in expressing themselves in the most outrageous manner possible.

My wife is probably the second most conservative art major to graduate from the University of Illinois.  The most conservative and just as practicing a Catholic is our daughter.

Our daughter graduated just three years ago, and in our many campus visits with her, I once again got to visit the art building. Frankly, there were students for which I could find no adequate pronoun.  So when I met someone, I would say something creative like, “How are you? It is nice to meet you.” I found it perfectly acceptable to say my name and ask theirs.  I didn’t use he, she or Ze and didn’t receive a single citation from the campus sensitivity police.

In today’s culture of political correctness, some folks seem to believe gender is something each person (as opposed to God or genetics) determines. If you accept that premise – which I don’t – the gender range would go from King Kong at one extreme to Tinkerbell on the other.

But even a casual reading of the Bible shows that God had just two genders in mind.  God took a rib from Adam to make Eve.  He didn’t take all 24 of Adam’s ribs to make various sorts of self-determined genders. Poor ribless Adam would be flopping around like a jellyfish. Of course, some folks might think that just makes him another gender.

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A Star is Scorned

trumpPresident Donald Trump is a controversial character and has faced his ups and downs in his remarkable life.

This week he faced a shocking humiliation when the West Hollywood City Council recommended the removal of his star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I’m not surprised it came to this. His star has been vandalized twice and we really can’t expect the poor citizenry to keep making repairs, what with the skyrocketing cost of caviar and brie in area dispensaries.

There are 2600 names on the Hollywood Walk, soon to be 2599 it seems. Many of the apparently famous I have never of.

Of course, everyone has heard of Donald Trump. But many object to his star because he is supposedly mean-spirited, rude, grumpy, insensitive, and married for the third time to an attractive younger woman.

Those qualities would hardly make him unique on the Walk. A goodly number of the actresses on the Walk have appeared naked on the big screen and fostered rather torrid off-screen affairs.

Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame has a star. So does the scandalous Pee-wee Herman.

Many of those who have stars aren’t, well, real: Bugs Bunny, Big Bird, Donald Duck, Kermit the Frog, and Snow White to name a few.  Lassie (the dog) has a star, which is a bit odd because Lassie wasn’t a single dog, but an entire line of collies.

And then there are various actors and actresses who appeared in movies and television that would be considered politically correct – if not outright racist – by today’s standards.

Frankly, if the Trump-offended are going to tear up his star, they better get a large team of workers to take out a lot of other stars. They don’t what to leave a sinful star unturned. And looking over the list, Donald Trump is, by comparison, a genteel paragon of virtue.

 

A Law America Should Not Need

am flagSome members of Congress are sponsoring legislation requiring that the only flag to be flown at a US embassy is the American flag.

It seems to be a strange law to be needed.  After all, what other flag would someone fly at a US embassy? The Chinese Flag? The Russian Flag? The French Flag? The English Flag?

Of course, the impetus for this legislation isn’t some renegade American ambassador flying the flag of Italy over his embassy. No, it seems a gay pride flag has appeared over a few of our embassies. Perhaps this occurred to curry favor with local activists.  Perhaps it was a misguided attempt to influence local culture.

800px-Gay_flag.svg2000px-Flag_of_the_United_Nations.svgconfederateSymbolic_flag_of_Peace_(Proposal)

Whatever the reason, it was a clear, loud symbol – of how weak is our government’s grasp on truth and morality.  A US embassy should be a symbol of only those things represented in our founding documents, not the latest social trend or excursion into immorality.

Yes, I believe homosexual behavior is disordered. It isn’t some new normal and no amount of gay demonstrating or banner-waving will change that. No, I don’t believe people with same-sex attraction should be discriminated against or treated like lepers in ancient times.  But treating people with dignity and respect does not require me to celebrate sodomy.

vatican-city-flag-2886047_960_720I’m sure there is someone in an American embassy in some foreign land who might want to hang some banner other than Old Glory over his building. How about a Confederate Flag? How about a Peace Flag? How about the United Nations Flag? How about the Vatican Flag?

Each of these flags would be inspiring to some folks. Each would be highly offensive to others.

The American Flag should not offend anyone representing our nation in one of our embassies.  If it does, that person needs to seek a new line of work.

 

Why must things go bump in the night?

1377-1244933977c4kRPerhaps I suffer from selective memory, but I’m convinced that there are certain challenging events that only occur between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.

Cases in point:

  • A pregnant wife decides it is time to go the hospital to deliver the baby. It can come earlier in the night if the husband already is asleep.
  • Raccoons knock over garbage cans.
  • Babies cry really loudly. Yes, they cry at other times, but during this time they make much more noise.
  • Airplanes fly lower and more directly over the house.
  • The muffler falls off the car driven home late by the neighbor’s teenage son. In some cases, the muffler doesn’t have to fall off because the kid is driving a motorcycle.
  • There is a huge storm with thunder and lightning.
  • A leak in the roof starts to drip and makes a really loud plop. Drips are pretty much silent during the day.
  • After you visit the bathroom and flush the toilet, the handle sticks and the water continues to run. This never happens at noon.
  • A wrong number calls.
  • The dog and cat renew their mutual mistrust.

You may think these things can happen during daylight.  Maybe they can happen to you when the sun is up. But not to me. I always get bumped in the night.

If it bleeds, it leads

The axiom in local news coverage is that if it bleeds it leads.

This truth is stated with ironic humor, but it really is a truth.  As a small point of evidence, I offer the top eight headlines in the Chicago Tribune’s July 5, 2018, issue:

  1. Two hit by lightning along lakefront as storms send holiday crowds running for cover
  2. 2 dead after branch from 100-year-old tree falls on crowd at fireworks show in Quad Cities
  3. Chicago police officer shoots dog while chasing suspect on West Side
  4. 7 wounded in Fourth of July shootings in Chicago, including 2 teens
  5. Former fire captain gets 36-year prison term for raping probationary employee near Champaign
  6. Woman found dead along Chicago River in Goose Island
  7. Divers search for man who went into Fox River during fireworks show
  8. ‘Sexy’ steal of home by Javier Baez energizes Cubs during 6th straight win

The first seven articles are by any definition “bad” news, some involving the literal shedding of blood.

The eighth story is positive, I think.  I assume it is good that Baez had a “sexy” steal, although I don’t know what makes a steal sexy. Perhaps it means his pants fell down. I don’t know; I’m a White Sox fan and we keep our pants on in public.

I understand the basic criteria for news. News is what has the most effect on the lives of people, what is emotional, what is unusual. It isn’t news when the vast majority of airplanes land safely; it is news when a plane crashes. It is really big news if a plane crashes and someone famous was on the flight.

I’m not so naïve as to think the leading headlines in Chicago Tribune will ever be something like this:

  1. Record turnout for Sunday Mass in area Catholic churches
  2. Emergency response workers bored by lack of action
  3. Young nun wins national spiritual poetry contest
  4. Priest leads march to thank taxpayers for making social programs possible

But as a Catholic, I do need to keep my eyes, ears, and heart focused on the positive – and what I can do to minimize the negative.  I can’t help but feel empathy for two people hit by lightning during a July 4 event. But I can be thankful that hundreds of thousands of people were not injured.

The headlines are often distressing.  However, behind those negative events are millions of positive events.  And perhaps the most positive news of all is the negatives are such a small part of reality.

God’s blessings will always outshine the bleeding leads.

Sometimes Stupid

heavensThis is about the Heavenly Bodies exhibit and the MET Gala.

But first…a recollection of my father. He was really smart and lacked the virtue of patience.  (Relax, this isn’t the blog where I go into my complicated analysis of my relationship with dad.)

As a result of the volatile combination of intelligence and impatience, when my dad encountered something he believed was terribly wrong and didn’t want to take time to explain why, he would call it “stupid.”  When making this declaration he usually exhibited a dramatic flair that could include adding multiple adjectives before the word “stupid,” words I won’t reproduce here.

And now we get back to the MET and its gala. No, I’m not going to call the MET or its gala stupid. I’m going to suggest that the way some folks showed up dressed for the gala reflected stupid decisions on their part.

Every Catholic pundit I know has commented on whether the Vatican ought to partner with the MET, especially on the gala (which is different than the actual exhibit). The reactions spread far and wide:

  • What a glorious celebration of diversity and inclusiveness.
  • This really shows how art and the faith can share in God’s joy.
  • Maybe this will jolt the Church into the modern world.
  • Whoever in the Vatican approved this should be burned at the stake.

The actual exhibit really isn’t so controversial: beautiful vestments and fashions.

It was the gala that people praised or condemned and caused me to become for a moment, my father.  There were many things about the gala that I’m sure were wonderful…fascinating people…fancy clothes…lots of scrumptious food.

But there were some really, well, stupid things.  For instance, when a female pop star shows up dressed up like a Pope in hot pants, I turn into my father.  There is probably a long explanation of why such attire is blasphemous, tasteless, sacrilegious, and so forth.

But to me, it is just plain stupid.  And if someone shows up to an event like this in attire is just plain stupid, I don’t blame the MET, the Vatican, Cardinal Dolan, the Sisters of Mercy, the Anglican, the Norwegians or anyone other than the person who decided to dress in a way that was, say it: stupid.

Advice for Graduation Speakers

university-student-1872810_960_720Here we are in the most challenging time of the year for high school and college administrators.

Yes, we’re in graduation season, the time of year when there is a real danger that a student giving a graduation speech will utter a forbidden word. No, I’m not talking about George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV. (Don’t let the kids click on the link…really.)

I’m talking about those seven insidious words that threaten the political correctness that lies at the heart of American education in 2018:  God, Jesus, Christ, Christian, Virgin, Mary, and Madonna (unless referring to a pop singer who needs more clothes). These are the prohibited words.

Students across the country are plotting ways to sneak these words into their speeches. I hear one creative graduating senior thought he could cite his role model as a Jewish Carpenter (since he dare not say “Jesus”) but school authorities ruled that Jewish was a near-violation of the prohibited words and could not be tolerated. After all, there is a clear connection between Jews and Christians.

Another sneaky speaker tried to work a line from the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” into her speech.  She was expelled and denied graduation because school officials feared some people attending graduation ceremonies could be offended by a reference to someone with the same name as the Mother of God.

Lest I be labeled as cynical and negative, let me point out the seven approved for use by enlightened educations across the nation: atheist, gay, lesbian, bisexual, choice, misogyny, and bathroom.

Under some circumstances, the use of a word from the approved list will sanction the use of a word from the prohibited list. For example: “God wants me to be gay” or “Mary was bisexual”.

If America’s educators successful preserve the integrity of this year’s graduation speeches, it will be another step forward in the grand and glorious object to produce faithless youth who aren’t sure of their gender.

Alfie Reminds us to Remember the Revolution

hammer-802301_1280In 1776, a struggle broke out between the mighty British Empire and the upstart American colonies.

The colonies rebelled for many reasons, including freedom from excessive taxes, freedom from unreasonable government intervention and infringement on religious freedom.  But at the heart of the matter was something more fundamental, something that continues to be at the heart of left and right debate in the great American experiment.

Choose one:

  1. Government holds the rights and power of society and determines what will be granted to people based on what it believes is best for them and to preserve the control of the government
  2. God grants inalienable rights to people, who form a government to protect those rights.

Just to remove any mystery from this discussion, I am a total proponent of choice B.  Choice A leads to enslavement.  Read Orwell’s “1984” to understand where choice A leads.  If you don’t want to read the book, watch the movie.  It is nearly as terrifying.

Read any newspaper or watch any television news program on any day of the week and you will see this struggle between government control and freedom playing out in the public square.  We often forget that what is at stake – no matter the good intentions of the people promoting choice A – is the life or death of God in our society.

Alfie Evans, the British toddler who died a few days ago, became an unintended symbol of the struggle.  His parents had the very Catholic, Christian idea that they should let God determine the child’s fate, a viewpoint strongly endorsed by Pope Francis.

Somehow it came to the hospital, backed by the British courts, to make the life or death call.  And what especially caught my attention was the remark by a senior Catholic cleric: “It’s very hard to act in a child’s best interest when this isn’t always as the parents would wish – and this is why a court must decide what’s best not for the parents, but for the child.”

I’m going to give the Cardinal the benefit of the doubt.  I assume he means well and thinks the well-intentioned and caring folks at the hospital did their best.

Unfortunately, in the battle between Godly people and Godless government he likely is playing the role of useful idiot.  He accepts the court as England’s God.

Perhaps if the courts were staffed by God-fearing souls of strong Christian formation, they could make informed decisions about matters of morality.  But today’s courts are staffed by moral relativists who worship at the high altar of tolerance.  I doubt the court that decided the fate of Alfie Evans has a better grasp on truth than Pontius Pilot.

These are intellectuals who are certain they know better than parents, the Church, and God when a child should be killed.  And if we Catholic – cleric and lay – don’t present an alternative with strength and vigor we will soon have little ability to evangelize. We may have no reason to evangelize.

If we cede God’s authority to Godless courts, what do we stand for? We must all be soldiers in Alfie’s Army.

I doubt those brave and rebellious Americans of 1776 had much faith in the wisdom of the English courts.  I doubt children or parents in England have much faith in those courts today. Sadly, I have little confidence American courts would do much better.

A Hero for Today

Waffle,_Baytree_Waffle_House,_RemertonAre heroes born or made?

It is one of those questions that is periodically asked and never adequately answered.  Like which came first: the chicken or the egg? And…why did the chicken cross the road?

The hero question usually comes up as we lament the absence of heroes in our fast-moving, self-indulgent, high-technology, indifferent society. It often seems that we just don’t have any George Washingtons or Abe Lincolns running around, let alone A John Wayne or an Audie Murphy.

But just when you think the night is darkest, up pops a hero from the counter at the Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee (near Nashville).

The hero is James Shaw, Jr. I don’t know him and don’t know much about him.  According to news reports, he is a dad and an electrician. It doesn’t appear there is anything extraordinary about the guy.

But when an evil man (who will not be named here) entered the restaurant and starting shooting people – four dead and many wounded – Shaw intervened, took away the shooter’s weapon and saved a crowd of people.

Shaw has been praised by law enforcement officials and the people of the community.  He has had his 15 minutes of fame, being interviewed on television and exhibiting nothing but humility and humanity.

Not satisfied with saving a few lives, Shaw set up a gofundme page to help the victims of the shooting.  He set a goal of $15,000 and soon had raised 10 times that amount.

Heroes do stuff like that.

Most of history’s heroes are people we have never heard of. They are simple, ordinary, people who do what has to be done when extraordinary needs arise.  I don’t think they are either born or made – they just are.

My guess is that a year from now there won’t be many people who remember the name of James Shaw, Jr.  That doesn’t matter.  The people he saved will remember.  He will remember.

Shaw, like other heroes, didn’t act for glory, attention, fame or fortune.  He did what needed doing. That’s how heroes are.

What the Hell!

About once a year Pope Francis engages in an interview with Italian “journalist” Eugenio Scalfari. Scalfari is the founder of the left-wing Italian newspaper “La Repubblica.”

I suppose in the eyes of some that makes him a journalist.  After all, he founded a newspaper and he writes.  On another hand, a 12-year-old girl who keeps a diary (or journal) could be called a journalist.

A real journalist is meticulous, accurate, takes clear notes or records conversations (with permission). If a real journalist reports on an interview they are careful to faithfully report what was said, in the context in which it was said.

In Scalfari’s case, he fails on all these points. He doesn’t record or take notes, but simply engages in a conversation and then writes his impressions and calls it an interview. It is a little like having Picasso walk through a courtroom, do a cubist work from memory and call it court reporting.

Perhaps I should give Scalfari a break in light of his advanced age: nearly 94.  But I think he ought to know better and be more responsible.

In his most recent interview with the Holy Father, Scalfari reported that the Pope had doubts about the existence of Hell. Despite how often the Pope has spoken of Hell and how it is a place to be avoided, social media went crazy and the Vatican had to issue an admonition not to trust what Scalfari writes.

This is nothing new. It happens every time the Pope talks to this guy. So some people wonder why Francis doesn’t find someone a little more reliable to talk with.

I don’t know for certain, but my guess is that the Pope is hoping to create a meaningful dialogue with the journalist – an adamant atheist – to come around to the faith before he kicks the bucket of printer’s ink and finds out Hell is real.

Jesus dialogued with some rather sordid souls and saved a high percentage.  Of course, none of them were reaching a large readership.

As for the existence of Hell, the Church says there is such a place and I agree.  I’m sure many people – including noted theologians – could debate its nature.  Dante wrote a bit about it. Artists have created countless images.

I don’t believe the popular idea of it being a place where a guy with a pitchfork jumps around in red long underwear. But some people believe it is personally created to fit the individual sinner.  If that is true – and with me being a frequent critic of the news media – I hope I don’t end up being interviewed for all eternity by Scalfari, with every word I speak being misquoted and presented out of context. And I dread he would be wearing red undies.