Entrepreneurial ashes

640px-crossofashesTomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, a time of penance leading up to Easter.

Catholics go to Mass, then have ashes placed on their foreheads.  The Priest applying the ashes says, “Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return.” This tends to diminish pride and increase humility, which is appropriate at the start of Lent.

However, some churches are innovating with their ashes this year.  Some are adding glitter to their ashes as a sign of solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

No, I’m not kidding.  And my first reaction was total disgust.  But then my inner entrepreneurial spirit wafted up from somewhere and I realized there might be opportunity in ashes.

All these years as a Catholic convert I was thinking ashes were a sign of penance, a serious sacramental to remind me of how little I truly am.  But now I realize that ashes are an opportunity for self-expression and political action.

Let’s not limit this to glitter ashes to offer a nod to the LGBTQ folks.  Ashes could come in many varieties:

  • Red for Republicans
  • Blue for Democrats
  • Pink for breast-cancer survivors
  • Tiger stripped for car lovers
  • Dalmatian spotted for dog lovers
  • Green for tree huggers

School could raise money by selling ashes with their school colors.  Companies might work deals to have their logos centered in ashes worn by their employees.  The possibilities are nearly endless.  And the more ornate the ashes, the more you could charge for their application.

This could be the next big thing, right up there with the pet rock and chia Obama.  And the design theme could carry on throughout Lent and into Easter.

Maybe I’ve been too narrow-minded all these years, thinking the ashes had religious significance.  And I’m likely even more narrow-minded about the crucifix.

A crucifix always has Jesus on it.  But if we are flexible about ashes, why not loosen up a bit with the crucifix.  I’m thinking the same folks who would like, say, green ashes for the environment, would like a green Jesus on a green cross.  And the folks who like glitter ashes might want a figure on the cross who is, well, androgynous.

As with ashes, the marketing possibilities for crucifixes with various combinations of colors and figures is virtually endless.  Why not a “plant” crucifix to show solidarity with nature?  Why not a whale crucifix to show solidarity with the beasts of the sea?

I know.  I know.  This is ridiculous.  But I believe if we become sacrilegious in little things, we’ll soon be sacrilegious in bigger things. If we forget the meaning of ashes on the forehead, what guarantees we’ll remember the meaning of a corpus on a cross?

This year and every year until I return to ashes, I’ll be opting for the standard black ashes on my forehead, the product of burned palms from Palm Sunday a year ago.

Glitter doesn’t go with penance.  Penance is no time for politics.

Basic needs and self-fulfillment

old-florida-outhouse-1176260Common sense means living in the world as it is today; but creative people are people who don’t want the world as it is today but want to make another world. – Abraham Maslow

 I’ve been thinking about Abraham Maslow and bathrooms of late.

Maslow didn’t have much to do with bathrooms, but I think his psychological theories might help explain huge plumbing gaps that exists in the world today.

Maslow developed the “hierarchy of needs.”  Of course, he based it on years of research and a zillion pages of analysis, but you can sum it up with a five-tiered pyramid.

At the base are basic needs, things like enough food and water to survive, simple shelter and, perhaps, the ability to outrun a tiger before it eats you.

At the peak is achieving one’s full potential and doing really creative things.  Painting the Sistine Chapel would fit here.

But it was the great bathroom gap that got me thinking about the hierarchy of needs.

In the less-developed parts of the world, folks still struggle to meet basic needs, like a place to go to the bathroom.  India is a big country with a billion or so people and a major bathroom shortage.  That means a lot of basic needs poorly met.

Something like 40 percent of Indian’s households lack a bathroom.  I’m not talking about missing out on an adjustable shower and whirlpool, I’m talking no place to conduct basic bodily elimination.  The government is working on what it calls a goal of ODF.  That means creating an “open-defecation free” society.

I’m not saying India lack advanced culture and creativity – but lots of folks are just hoping to have a better place to relieve themselves than the middle of the street or behind the nearest tree.  Bathrooms are at the base of the Maslow hierarchy and I can’t blame India to want to move up the pyramid.

Here in the USA, we’re at a different place in the hierarchy when it comes to bathrooms.  We have more than enough bathrooms to meet basic human needs.  Our bathrooms have become tools of self-expression, self-fulfillment and self-actualization.  They are the battlegrounds in the wars of gender fluidity.

Indians are hoping for something better than a hole in the ground to use as a bathroom; we’re fighting over who can use which bathroom, depending on which of the multiple genders they identify with on a particular day.

I don’t spent much time thinking about bathrooms.  I’ve always been a boy and always used the boys’ bathroom.  That makes my choices simple and I consider the bathroom to be pretty far down the pyramid in Maslow’s hierarchy.  I don’t think of a bathroom as an important expression of self.

It I ever get to the top of the pyramid, bathrooms won’t be on my mind.  But I might do a Sistine Chapel.

Courting common sense

dead-roses-1372497159yk5I doubt Barronelle Stutzman ever expected she would be appealing a case to the US Supreme Court.

Barronelle isn’t a terrorist, political activist or criminal.  She is a Christian and a florist. In Richland, Washington.

When I picture a Christian/florist, I can’t immediately think of a likely reason for such a person to wind up in front of the nation’s highest court.  But the crime of violating political correctness can pop up in the most innocent of places.

This florist’s life of crime unfolded in 2013, when she declined to provide floral services for a same-sex wedding.  Ironically, the customer who complained was a long-time customer who obviously had been served in Barronelle’s shop on numerous occasions.  But the Christian florist wasn’t comfortable serving a ceremony that violated her beliefs.

The State of Washington (which charged her with discrimination), Federal Government, American Civil Liberties Union, Alliance Defending Freedom and, of course, one persecuted florist have spent millions debating who you have to sell flowers to.  Looks like the case is headed to the Supreme Court.

What a horrible waste of time, energy and resources.

In a sane society, we wouldn’t be having this debate. There would be no such thing as a same-sex marriage. If someone decided to hold a same-sex ceremony, they certainly wouldn’t expect people of other beliefs to participate.

In this case, there were plenty of options around Richland for someone to get wedding flowers.  It wasn’t as if Barronelle controlled the last supply of water in Washington and allowed the gay community to die of dehydration.

We’re talking a dispute over wedding flowers – all the way to the Supreme Court.

For some reason, this brought to mind a scene from my childhood…I suppose I was about 12 years old.  I wandered down to my local barbershop on a Saturday morning for a trim.

While I was waiting, a guy with a bushy head of hair got his turn in the big chair and announced he wanted a Mohawk.  The barber laughed and replied that he didn’t do haircuts like that, so the customer would have to go elsewhere.

The customer argued a bit, the barber held his ground and after a minute, the customer was out the door to look for a Mohawk-friendly barber.  End of story.

Of course, that was 40 years ago.  Today, the barber would either do the Mohawk or be hauled into court.  I’m not sure what the charge would be, something like discriminating against plume-preferring hairy men – I’m sure they are a “protected” class.  That would not be progress.  It would be ridiculous.  And it is where we are headed.

Music versus music

string-555070_960_720The Catholic Church inspires some of the world’s most beautiful music.

The Catholic Church inspires some of the world’s most banal music.

Yes, both of these statements are true.  And when I go to an unfamiliar parish, I never know whether I’ll encounter the beautiful or the banal – or a stumbling compromise between the two.

Last Sunday, we heard both extremes within the same Mass.

It wasn’t our parish, but one we attend occasionally when our Sunday schedule gets fractured by family logistical challenges. (Our own parish is a bit of a drive and this one is closer.)

I steeled my nerves after settling into the pew and noticing guitars being shouldered to the right of the altar.  Soon they were strumming away, sounding like a bad marriage between Bob Dylan and a garage band.  They weren’t the worst modern group I’ve heard at a Mass – but they were in the running for the title.

A young priest entered, took his place and started the Mass – singing Gregorian Chant in a perfectly beautiful, masculine voice.  He chanted all the Mass parts, including the Eucharistic Prayer. It was surprising, unexpected and breathtaking

Sadly, the hymns were “performed” by the garage band.  I felt like I was watching a concert with Willy Nelson and Pavarotti alternating songs.  The big difference was the band was performing and the priest was praising, worshipping, glorifying God.  The band was self-absorbed and the priest with other-absorbed.

I love many genres of music.  About the only type of music I can’t stomach is rap, but that is a topic for another time.

When it comes to Church music, I’m more of a traditionalist.  Not only do I find that it fits the occasion better, but poorly played “contemporary” choir music usually sounds worse than poorly played traditional music.  Frankly, most parishes are musically challenged.

I’ve gone full circle on the traditional versus contemporary music debate.  I grew up a Methodist in a large church with absolutely glorious music.  After converting to Catholicism, my first musical experience was in a contemporary choir, from which I’m still in recovery.  Since then, my choral experience has been VERY traditional.

I sought out the chanting priest after Mass and thanked him for the beauty of his celebration.  He smiled and replied, humbly, “Thanks be to God.”


Beyond gone to the dogs

cat-1508613_960_720Traditional culture has encountered a few shocks in recent times.

First, we’ve had a huge debate over who can use which toilets.  When I grew up it was simple; girls used the girl’s toilet and boys used the boy’s toilet.  Today, regardless of the biology, the individual uses the toilet they most identify with, which could be different from what physical evidence might suggest.

Second, in the past few days the Boy Scouts have changed their membership requirements so someone joining doesn’t have to be a boy, but identify as a boy.  In other words, a girl who thinks of herself as a boy.  This should make for some interesting camping trips.  Frankly, I wasn’t much of a camper, which means I wasn’t terribly successful as a Boy Scout.  But in those ancient times I’m pretty sure we only had boys who were really boys in our tents.

Third, and most shocking, we learned earlier this week of something that stretches the diversity-inclusion-political correctness trend to the breaking point.  (Anyone with a sensitive heart should turn away now)

I’m astonished to report that The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will, horror of horrors, now include (shudder the thought) CATS.  Yes, we’re talking felines.

Read all about it in Town and Country Magazine.  (This likely will be the only time in my life I cite this publication.)

Now don’t worry, the cats won’t be parading around the center ring and demonstrating their obedience skills.  After all, cats are cats.  So…there will simply be informational booths with various types of cats.

I’m puzzled.  Why would someone coming to a dog show want to learn about cats?  I don’t have anything against cats, but if I went to a dog show, I would expect to see dogs.  If I wanted to see cats, I’d go to a cat show – or the humane society.

Will the dog show progress from cats to guinea pigs to hamsters to gold fish to parrots reptiles?  No snakes, please; they gave me the creeps ever since I read what happened to Adam and Eve.  The dog show could become a zoo.

I’m so confused.  Boys aren’t boys.  Girls aren’t girls.  Cats are going to dog shows.

This can’t be God’s plan; I really miss normal.