Be Not Afraid

603px-The_ScreamOf all the brilliant messages Saint Pope John Paul II told the world, the one I believe mattered the most was clear and simple: Be Not Afraid.

The tiny but gigantic piece of advice has been rumbling around in my heart and mind of late as I experience the stay-at-home restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic.

The world is beset with fear. Faith and hope that should dispel fear are sorely lacking not only among the rank-and-file people but in their political and religious leaders.

The world is fighting a virus. It is tiny, nasty, and impossible to defeat, at least in the short term. Many of us have been restricted to our homes. Schools, churches, and some businesses are closed. The stated purpose of all this is to halt the spread of the virus.

But the decisions by political leaders are deeply confused. They claim to be concerned for people and lives. I think they are responding to fear, sustained by lack of faith.

What am I talking about?

Let’s start with the decisions of the politicians:

  • I can to the grocery store as long as I stay six feet away from other people wear a mask over my nose and mouth.
  • I cannot go to Church.
  • Kids can’t go to school.
  • I can go to the hardware store but not the clothing store.
  • I can get my car repaired but can’t have my teeth cleaned.
  • People can enjoy the forest preserves in my area but the immense Chicago lakefront parks are closed.

I could add many more examples but I think you get the point; there is a heap of inconsistency going on. Myriad restaurants and other small businesses are going to go bankrupt.

But our political leaders are making fear-based decisions. They say they are keeping the world closed to save lives. I think they just don’t want to be blamed for the loss of life.

In recent days, I have often heard a politician say something along the lines of: “If we save one life it is worth doing what we are doing, even if the economic consequences are horrible.”

That sounds noble but it is just plain lame. Politicians don’t really want to do absolutely anything to save just one life.

If that were true, we would ban air travel and train travel. We could close every street and highway. We would prohibit motorcycles, bicycles, tricycles, skateboards, rollerblades, and BB guns.

We don’t do those things and we would be insane to do them. In fact, we make decisions all the time that is isn’t worth untold sums of money to “just save one life”. If we really believe we should do everything possible to save one life we would make the speed limit on our streets 5 miles per hour. We would require school playgrounds to be built of shock-absorbing rubber that prevents bumps and bruises. We would require every citizen to have a daily physical exam and test for every known disease.

We don’t do those things because they would create a miserable world and are totally impractical. Locking us in our homes also is impractical.

And where are the leaders of the Catholic Church in all of this? They are supporting the decisions of the politicians.  Churches are closed. No Mass. No Confessions. No weddings. No funerals.

Yes, if you loaded up a church with hundreds of people coughing on each other you might spread the virus. But the same is true in a hardware store or grocery store. And as with those buildings, there are measures a church can take to ensure health and safety.

But what bothers me more is that our Church leaders have accepted the situation. At a time when people need the sacraments more than ever, the doors are locked. I suspect that is because diocesan lawyers have told bishops that if they challenge the politicians and open the doors – and someone gets sick – they will be liable.

Perhaps. But if we truly believe what we say we believe, that isn’t the worse thing that could happen. The worse thing is what is happening. People are deprived of the sacraments.

I don’t want anyone to get sick with coronavirus, let alone die. But if we truly believe in the Eucharist, we should be willing to risk death to consume it.  And our leaders should do anything to provide us with the path to everlasting life. After all, Jesus really can save every single life.

The Essential Truth

1 the Lord and our Lady-1We’re living in the midst of what some folks believe is the worst disaster in history: the coronavirus pandemic.

Workers in “non-essential” businesses are at home, schools and churches are closed, unemployment is soaring, and the government is handling out trillions of dollars to keep things afloat.

Yes, it is a difficult time and tens of thousands of people around the world are sick and dying. But as is usually the case, those suffering in the present forget the suffering of the past.

World War I was worse. World War II was worse. Plagues in the Middle Ages were worse.  Plagues in Ancient Greece were worse. We could debate for hours about what was the worst of the worse.

Like most folks, after more than a month under quarantine, I’m a bit weary. I want to walk in the park, fish, and sit in a neighborhood restaurant and enjoy a meal served by a happy and employed person.

This brings me to what is really eating me today; how do we define “essential”. Essential businesses can stay open. Non-essential business must close. And there are some that seem to fall partly into both categories.

Essential enterprises include grocery stores, gas stations, and cannabis dispensaries.

Non-essential businesses include hair salons, book stores, and health clubs.

There are hybrids. Restaurants can’t seat customers but can offer carryout or delivery. Big box department stores can stay open if they offer groceries.

Of course, this means that if you own an essential business you still have income and can pay your employees.

If you have a non-essential business you may face total failure despite government assistance programs.

What I consider to be essential may be different than what you deem essential. I’m sure we could agree grocery stores are essential. Perhaps you are grateful that you can still buy cannabis; I don’t care if those shops close and stay closed – forever.

This situation makes me think about what really is essential in life. We can start with the basest of basics: air, water, food. Then we progress through shelter, companionship, the ability to create art and music, to our spiritual relationship with God.

All these things are essential; some are more urgent than others. For example, air is so urgent a need that without it you die in a matter of minutes. The ability to create art and music may not be urgent but it is essential to what makes us human.

Who am you or I do judge what is essential or non-essential? Today, my urgent needs are being met but the truly essential needs are difficult to obtain.

Being with my children and grandchildren is essential… and that essential need is beginning to feel urgent. When the quarantine lifts — supposedly in about a month — there will many beautiful reunions.

I need confession and the Eucharist. I need the community of the faithful, live and in-person as opposed to on a computer screen.

I need to be human again.

Billions and Trillions and Money, Oh My

A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money… Everett McKinley Dirkson

Everett Dirkson was an Illinois politician who served many years in the United States Senate. He was an eloquent speaker and as Republican Minority Leader played a key role in gaining passage of national civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

His most famous quote (above) expressed his concern that government spent too much money. There is some evidence he never actually said those precise words… and less evidence he did much to prevent the growth of big government.

Dirkson, who died in 1969, would likely have a difficult time processing the size of the $2-trillion economic stimulus bill enacted by the federal government in March of 2020 in response to the coronavirus. It certainly is real money.

Let me stipulate right now that I don’t deny the good intentions of the legislation to help people facing medical and economic crises during the pandemic. Neither do I suggest that there isn’t a role for government in times of crisis and the need to spend large sums of money for those in need.

However, I was disgusted by the attempts during the creation of the legislation to throw every politician’s pet fantasy into the bill. Voter registration, bans on fossil fuels, support for art projects, a bailout for the post office, forgiveness of student loans, more money for public broadcasting.  Some of these things slouched into the final legislation.

The appalling debate brought two of the 10 Commandments to mind:

  1. Thou shalt not steal.
  2. Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s goods.

There is much in the stimulus bill that is about caring for people and helping others. There also is much about income redistribution, which tends to spring from the violation of the 10th Commandment.

And to achieve this redistribution it is required that the 7th Commandment be violated on a massive, national scale. The government takes money from some people and gives it to other people. The politicians doing this stealing like to think of themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods, taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

The problem is, they need to better understand the story of the famous thief.  What he did was seize tax money unjustly taken by the government and return it to the people.

Our politicians do just the opposite; they take from the poor, via taxes, and pay for the pet projects of the rich and well-connected. The farmer struggling to keep the family farm in Iowa and the small-town grocer trying to make ends meet in Omaha are paying taxes to the government so politicians can give grants to the National Endowment for the Arts.

Robin Hood would be disgusted.

Everett Dirkson would have to change his quote: A trillion, a trilling there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.

Happy at Home

espo columnI live in Illinois, where the governor has issued a “stay at home order” and I’m getting along fine and dandy.

Blame the coronavirus.

Let me start by pointing out that despite what some in the press are reporting there is not a “shelter in place” decree.  Shelter in place is what a high school does when a crazed shooter appears on campus; everyone seeks shelter and stays there until the “all clear” is given. It is what people in a chemical plant do if there is a toxic gas leak. It is what farmers in Kansas do when tornadoes appear on the horizon.

Stay at home is serious but less onerous. It means if you don’t have an essential job you stay at some. You can go for a walk or work in your yard, but you can’t visit the grandkids or hold your Friday night poker game.

Only essential business may remain open: groceries, gas stations, banks, carryout food, pharmacies.

Non-essential businesses include bowling alleys, dance clubs, bars, fashion boutiques, florists.

Schools and churches are closed and most people are working remotely from home or out of a job until we either get coronavirus under control or it runs its deadly course.

Pick up any newspaper and you will read of the psychological dangers faced by families suddenly faced with being in the same building for days and nights on end. Of course, those people who live alone can’t go out and mingle with the rest of humanity so they face a future some consider worse than coronavirus: cabin fever.

conradHowever, for some of us (me, in particular), life really hasn’t changed all that much on most days.  I’ve been working from home for two decades so I’m quite accustomed to getting out of bed in the morning and walking 20 steps to my office, which is wherever my computer and phone are charging. During these 20 years, I have had just one consistent office mate, Lady Conrad, a green-cheeked conure.

Being under stay at home orders has some clear disadvantages. I can’t visit my grandchildren and they can’t come to spend the day, which they usually do once a week. I can’t go to Mass at a church. I can’t get a cup of coffee and sit in my local coffee shop.

But with all the online technology available, I can visit my grandchildren via live video, watch Mass live, and still get coffee to go and talk a walk in the park.

Through the internet, I have access to virtually every movie, television program, piece of recorded music, and book ever produced. I also have dozens of books I have obtained with high intentions of reading but that remain on the “to be read” shelf in my office – or the download file in my e-reader.

I can talk to friends on the phone, use email or texting, and I belong to an online prayer group that meets weekly through video conferencing.

In other words, as a long-time worker from home, I learned long ago how not to be isolated even if it seems I am – at least physically.

Like any human being, God never leaves me alone. He is always there for me though I have to confess the sometimes I’m not there for Him. We do talk daily through prayer. Most of my prayers are short and simple. For example, when I complete a challenging piece of work I’ll say “thanks for helping me get that done”. When my computer freezes in the midst of an especially inspiring line of writing my prayer is more like “come on, why now?”

I’m also blessed during this time of being home because my wife’s place of work is closed and she is home with me. I expect there are many people who are not thrilled about the people they are sharing space with. But in my case, I have the person I love more than anyone else in the world, my best friend, and a really fun person all wrapped into one.

I have a happy home and I’m happy to be here.  Thank you, God.

Coronavirus Craziness

fearI think the one thing the world really needs is another commentary on the way the coronavirus is changing our lives.

You may not agree, so I dare you to continue reading to see if I come up with something clever or insightful about the current crisis. These really are interesting times and I fear we are just getting started.

Last week health officials suggest we avoid crowds. Professional and college sports leagues canceled their seasons. Churches suspended services.

You can roll a bowling ball across St. Peter’s Square in Rome and not hit a single pilgrim. The basilica is just as empty.

This week in Chicago, where I live, all the bars and restaurants are shuttered. Schools are closed and parents are trying to figure out how to work and watch kids at the same time.

By next week we may all be hunkered in our basements, fearful that the next knock on the door will be a federal health soldier asking for a blood sample.

Perhaps it won’t get that extreme. But I’ve already seen enough of the human reaction to a pandemic to have confidence that things will be much crazier.

Let me share a few observations.

  1. What is the single thing that Americans are most afraid of having to live without? TOILET PAPER. People are buying TP as fast as trucks can restock stores. People are hoarding the stuff and I think some families must have enough to last for years.
  2. People are stocking up on bottled water, medicine, favorite foods, pet food, hand sanitizer, and beer.
  3. There is always some greedy jerk who tries to make an extra buck during a crisis. A couple guys made the news last night when the police found they had bought up thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and were selling it for outrageous prices to fearful neighbors. A judge decided they should give all their inventory to charities.
  4. My local newspaper (a major metropolitan daily) offered a long feature article on how to occupy oneself if restricted to home. In other words, if you can’t go to work, school or the mall, what on earth could you do?  Frankly, anyone who can’t figure out how to occupy themselves has greater issues than coronavirus.  If you have a cheap computer with an internet connection you can for very little money access virtually every movie, television program, and book ever produced in the history of mankind. You can also pick up a physical book.  Other things you can do include spending time with the other people you live with, either roommates or family. If you live alone you can talk to people on the phone.
  5. Life goes on despite the lack of sports to watch or in which to participate. This is a reminder that sports are a pastime. That is, they are something people do to pass the time, not improve the world.
  6. As a Catholic, if I am quarantined I will have extra time to meditate and pray. Prayer is a good thing to do in a pandemic. It might do me good to re-read the Bible, a book that has inspiration, history, drama, romance, and poetry.
  7. I’ve learned two new definitions and my first instinct regarding the meaning of each was incorrect.
    1. Flatten curve. I thought this would have something to do with building roads or railways. Turns out is related to the reduction of the curve on a chart of increasing numbers of coronavirus cases.
    2. Social distancing. I figured this was a short description of the way I feel around the right and famous; I sense the social distance between them and moi. But it refers to keeping a distance of a few feet from other people so you don’t get their germs.
  8. Everyone is encouraged to be thorough in the washing of hands. A tip for Catholics or other open to Catholic ways; if you pray a Hail Mary slowly and with reverence, it takes just the amount of time required to do a solid washing of the hands.

Much of the “normal” world I experience is closed. Many of the things I would normally do are unavailable. But God is always available. I just need to start the conversation.

One Size Fits None

1024px-Rainbow-gradient-fully-saturated.svgThe California legislation is pondering a bill that would prohibit department stores from displaying merchandise for boys and girls in different aisles.

The law would require all clothes and toys to be gender-neutral, clearly, a tip of the hat to the movement aimed to ensure that nobody influences a child to believe they are male or female.

After all, what right have you or I to look at a child and call it a boy or girl? And if every child is kept in a state of confusion it gives adults a good excuse for their own confusion.

Frankly, when I first read about this I was furious. But the more I think about it, the more I realize the legislation doesn’t go far enough. There is so much more in our inconsistent culture that must be set straight. Without correction we risk preserving a world in which there are both men and women.

To address the shortcomings of the legislation I offer the following amendments:

  1. The uniformity in merchandise should not be only for children but for people of all ages. We can’t put all the pressure for reform on the little ones.
  2. There will be one aisle of clothing in each store that will feature a rainbow jumpsuit that comes in a single “one size fits all”. (I realize the suit will be too big for some people and too small for others but that is just something we have to put up with until genetic engineering can create a population in which every person is the same size, shape, and ambiguous gender.)
  3. Regarding what is worn under the jumpsuits: don’t ask don’t tell.
  4. Shoes are banned. We can’t apply the “one size fits all” rule here without generating millions of bunions and blisters. Thus, everyone will go barefoot.
    1. The barefoot idea comes from my son’s description of a philosophy professor he met in college. She went barefoot all year round, rain, shine or snow. She said it helped her maintain closer contact with Mother Earth.
    2. I recognize this will be a serious problem for the National Hockey League but we all have to adapt and sacrifice to make the world a bland but consistent wasteland.
  5. The gender-control of toys also will apply to adult toys, namely cars, airplanes, and boats.
    1. All car owners must drive a black sedan with dull gray interior. (This will have Henry Ford jumping for joy in his grave.) We can’t have, for example, a woman driving around in a pink car setting a gender-specific example for the next generation. And we can’t have men driving around in anything built by Dodge. Die muscle car, die.
    2. All airplanes will be painted dull gray. Passengers will be indistinguishable from the flight crew because everyone will be wearing a rainbow jumpsuit. So… it will be important to check IDs before letting people into the cockpit.
    3. All boat names will be removed and each boat will be labeled with the owner’s Social Security Number. We can’t have people sailing around with gender-screaming names like “Daddy’s Favorite” or “Sweet Loraine”.

I know some readers will react to my proposed amendments with the rage I felt when I first read about the legislation. Do not be afraid. Change is hard, but we can do this.

One size can fit all. Or none.

Messing with a Mascot

illiniI was blessed to attend the University of Illinois, where I earned a couple degrees that empowered me to search for a job and exhibit some critical thinking.

Today, I want to apply some of that critical thinking to call my Alma Mater to task regarding the naming of a mascot.  You might think this is a relatively unimportant issue but it is indicative of the political correctness that has grasped much of our culture, especially our institutions of higher learning.

When I attended the university we had a wonderful symbol called Chief Illiniwek. He was not a mascot.  He didn’t lead cheers or prowl the sidelines during football games.  He had a routine that he performed at halftime that was designed to be a tribute to the school and the state. This went on from 1926 until 2007.

Then, in a response to complaints from a few American Indians (or native Americans or first nations people or whatever they wish to be called) the school did away with the Chief. He was replaced by an orange “I”. And the athletic teams continued to be called “Fighting Illini”.

There now is a move afoot to designate the Kingfisher as the mascot of the university. And while a Kingfisher is a perfectly respectable bird and common in parts of Illinois, it can’t ever be a symbol in the sense that the chief was. In fact, as opposed to performing with honor, I expect there will be some gullible undergraduate dressed up in a bird outfit running around during football and basketball games.

Tim_Moore_Kingfish_Amos_'n'_AndyI also predict that someone will be offended by the Kingfisher.  Oh, I don’t think bird lovers will care.  I have a pet bird who is a truly noble creature, although I would not recommend her as a school mascot. I’ve seen Kingfishers when I’m on the lake or river fishing and they are rather impressive. They also are much better at catching fish than I am.

But it seems to me that Kingfisher might remind some people of Kingfish, who was a star of the live radio program “Amos and Andy”. The show later appeared on television in the early 1950s, when I was alive but I doubt any of the current undergrads at the University of Illinois were.

I won’t go into a detailed description of “Amos and Andy” other than to say that it supposedly took place in Harlem and portrayed African Americans in a condescending and stereotypical way.  It was removed from television after repeated complaints by civil rights groups and religious leaders.

Kingfish was one of the stars of the show. He was always dreaming up a scheme to get rich, none of which ever worked. He was not a model for young people.

So, ye politically correct makers of mascots at my Alma Mater, don’t be surprised if your new mascot upsets people even more than your university’s old symbol. That’s the way political correctness works.

The Glory and Gratitude of Aging

ShoulderOsteoarthritisFirst, I want to affirm that the words that follow shall in no way be construed to be an admission on my part that I am getting old.

Having said that, certain medical issues have reared their ugly heads in the past several years. One of them came to a head this week and caused me to choose a path of gratitude over a path of general grumpiness.

I offer three case examples from my personal medical experience.

  1. I have significant hearing loss. To deal with this problem I wear hearing aids. They are small and most people don’t notice them. Frankly, I don’t care if they do.
  2. I have glaucoma, which can lead to blindness. Every night before I go to bed I put a drop of fancy medicine in each eye. I have been doing this for a couple years and the glaucoma seems to be arrested.
  3. I have “significant” osteoarthritis in both shoulders. This causes lots of pain and loss of motion. I’ve had physical therapy, which helped a little. I’ve had cortisone shots to reduce the inflammation. I take pain meds daily, but nothing addicting and nothing likely to rot out my liver. If the pain and lack of motion get bad enough I’ll have surgery; the doctor can put in new joints.

A visit this week to the orthopedist for the shoulder damage got me thinking about my fragility. I have much I could complain about.

After all, if I had lived a few decades ago, I would be going deaf and blind and would be getting unable to lift my arms.

Instead, miraculous devices help me to hear, a wonderful drug keeps my eyes healthy, and a skilled technician can poke me with needles (painlessly) in the shoulder and stop the pain.

In other words, I have much to be grateful for. And I choose to be grateful.

I also commit to the thoroughly Catholic practice of offering up whatever pain and suffering I endure for people who are truly old and sick.

Getting to the Bottom of the Truth

bandI made a bold prediction to my wife when I heard the Super Bowl 2020 halftime show would feature Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.

The prediction: there would be much shaking of bottoms. And so there was.

I’m not going to give you a detailed description of the performance. If you missed it you can watch any of many replays available online. I won’t provide a link.

In summary, there was singing and dancing, with the two stars and lots of other people in outfits that got skimpier as the show wore on. There was a good deal of gyrating, suggestive gestures, skin, and, yes, bottom shaking. One of the stars demonstrated her skill at pole dancing.

The bottom line (so to speak) was that it was extremely sexual and inappropriate.

I have two-year-old twin granddaughters and two grandsons around a year in age.  They don’t watch much television and after this Super Bowl, I won’t be arguing for them to spend more time in front of the screen.

My wife and I watched halftime together, partly to see if my advance prediction was correct. I’m glad I wasn’t watching with my daughter, granddaughters or mom (God rest her soul).

The football itself was reasonably entertaining and the result in doubt until late in the game. That is good; it was supposed to be an athletic competition.

There also were a couple highpoints before the game. Gospel singer Yolanda Adams delivered a breathtaking rendition of “God Bless America” and Singer Demi Lovato did a glorious job with the national anthem.

A halftime show featuring the two of them singing would have been truly entertaining – and the kids wouldn’t have been scandalized. A marching band would be another good choice.

But I suppose kids aren’t the targeted advertising demographic for the Super Bowl. The desired audience is young men who like to party and fantasize about shaking female bottoms.

And if you are a woman who thinks this halftime performance empowers women, you also are fantasizing.

Upside Down

dead end road sign
Photo by Dustin Tray on Pexels.com

Dear Grandpa Diff,

I have not written for a few months and thought it was about time to update you are the world’s latest insanity.

This bit of silliness involves television advertising and a big football game this weekend. I can’t mention the name of the game because the football gurus carefully guard the rights to the use of the name. However, it seems it is the network broadcasting this particular game – Fox – that has created the latest slice of cultural craziness.

It costs lots of money to run an ad during this particular sporting event. But even in our capitalist culture, an ad can be rejected because it violates current norms of what is socially acceptable.

As a result, the television network has refused to air an ad that is pro-life; it has testimonies of people who survived abortions. (I believe we covered in earlier correspondence the fact that abortion is legal now, something that would not have been thought even faintly possible in your time.)

Anyway… the pro-abortion folks have pressured the Fox folks not to run an ad that favors babies being allowed to be born alive.

However, the network plans to run an ad that features “drag queens” promoting a brand of hummus. The previous sentence likely contains two terms you are not familiar with, what with being a long-time resident of Hayesville, Ohio. Hayesville has never been a place of cosmopolitan taste. So, let me explain…

Hummus is a dip made from mashed chickpeas with spices added. I’m thinking you lived your entire life without eating a chickpea let alone hummus.

A drag queen is a bit more difficult to explain. It is a man who dresses up like a woman and usually behaves in a flamboyant manner. Libraries frequently have drag queens read stories to children is a misguided effort to promote gender fluidity and tolerance. Yes, libraries have lost their way.

I realize I have used another term (gender fluidity) that likely makes little sense to you. In your day men were men and women were women. Today, it seems there are some people who are unable or unwilling to choose one or

the other and stick with their choice. They exhibit gender fluidity.

Grandpa, I miss you and wish you were here. But were you here, I don’t know that I could tell you what I am writing here straight to your face. It would be so awkward and you would probably say, “for the love of our country, what has your generation done?”

I’d probably try to keep the conversation focused on who will win the big game and can grandma bake a batch of sugar cookies.

Grampa, our world is upside down.

Love… Jim