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

Innovation in Illinois

640px-Marijuana-Cannabis-Weed-Bud-GramThere are moments when I’m proud to be from Illinois.

The Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks have sometimes made me proud (although not lately).

The Nobel-prize winners from our universities have made me proud.

Being the “Land of Lincoln” makes me proud. Lincoln was among the greatest of Americans.

In recent months our state officials have spent considerable time and energy (and lots of money) to prepare for what they say is a badly needed product in the state.  The governor and his minions claim there is a huge demand for this innovative product.

The people who buy it will be happy. And taxes on the product with fill the state’s coffers with vast fortunes to build roads, repair bridges, educate our youth, and provide all sorts of free stuff to the poor.

Not only that, this product is versatile and can be sold in many different forms in various quantities. Darn near anyone can afford it and it provides happiness and a vast sense of well-being.

On the downside, its use likely leads to more vehicle accidents, various health problems, addiction, and lost productivity among workers.

You see, we’re talking about marijuana.

At a time when government health officials are ranting about the dangers of cigarettes and passing restrictions on “vaping”, the folks running Illinois are making it easy and relatively cheap to buy and smoke pot – or consume its mind-altering component in various other forms.

Used to be at the annual Christmas gathering you could smell the fruitcake to determine whether it contained brandy and should be off-limits for the kids.  Now you can only hope the cake contains only child-friendly ingredients.

The legal sale of pot started January 1 and watching the local news in recent days I got the impression this was one of the state’s greatest moments.  People old enough to know better were extolling the benefits of the drug.

State officials promised licenses to sell marijuana will be fairly doled out and people from all creeds, colors, and economic backgrounds will benefit. You would think someone just invented a pill to cure cancer.

I’m willing to predict that the ill effects of legal pot will greatly outweigh the benefits. That is an easy prediction to make; the benefits are terribly shallow.

Being a resident of the state determined to be the nation’s leader in the sale of recreational marijuana leaves me ashamed.

I’ll Take Joan of Arc

604px-Joan_of_Arc_on_horsebackWho in the world is Greta Thunberg?

That probably seems like a silly question. After all, she is Time Magazine’s “person of the year”. That makes her famous and important.

Basically, she is a 16-year-old Swedish female who has become the voice and face of those who believe mankind is causing the climate to change and the world will end in a few short years.

At one extreme, some folks see her as the environmental version of St. Joan of Arc. At the other end of the spectrum, some folks believe she is a smarty-mouthed brat who ought to go home and study a little math and chemistry. In the service of honesty, I admit I’m more in the latter camp.

The Pope thinks Greta is wonderful and the Vatican has praised her message of environmental concern. President Trump has a less enthusiastic opinion and has subjected the young Swede to a few inflammatory Tweets.

Whether you think what Greta has to say has merit or not, there is something terribly wrong with our society where a girl’s parents, the media, church leaders, and the United Nations raise her to the status of an international icon. It is the political version of making someone a child movie star – except this is a young person without talent beyond getting in the face of the establishment.

The “person of the year” thing might be confusing to some folks.  After all, isn’t gaining that title a good thing? Perhaps, but the choice – made by some senior editor at the magazine – is really just a tribute to the biggest “newsmaker” of the year, the person who caused the most commotion (good or bad).

I looked at the list of everyone who received the recognition since 1927; there are some impressive people on the list…Charles Lindbergh, Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, and a couple Popes.

There also are people who caused the world nothing but trouble: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Ayatullah Khomeini.

There are 10 people on the list who drew a complete blank from my college-educated mind, suggesting that even for the person of the year fame is fleeting.

Unless I missed someone on Time’s list, Greta is the youngest to receive the title and one of only a few women. However, unlike the rolls of the magazine, the Christian catalog of saints includes a vast number of women, many of them quite young when they made their mark for the faith. Two of my favorites that come to mind are Saint Lucy of Syracuse and Saint Therese of Lisieux.

Of course, Saint Joan of Arc was a teen when she raised an army, fought battles, and was burned at the stake. I’m sure Greta would deplore the carbon emissions from the fire.

The End of Secret

Logo_of_the_United_States_Secret_Service.svgSecret just ain’t what it used to be.

I always thought something that was secret was something that you aren’t supposed to know about.  But the more I think about it, the less that seems to be the case.

Think about when you were a little kid.  If you told something to another kid and said it was a secret, that was a clear signal that is was something that would be shared with some special other person – but only them and nobody else (except their one special other person).

Under oppressive regimes like the Nazis and Soviets, everyone knew there was a “secret” police. You also knew who they were when they showed up at your house and it likely wasn’t a secret why they were there.

The government has lots of secret documents. They even put a “secret” stamp on them.  But that doesn’t keep someone from emailing them around and storing them on a computer server in some geek’s house.

Some documents are stamped “top secret”. Is that as opposed to “bottom secret”? I don’t think so; it just means that if it is top secret the government means it is really, really, really secret.

In my mind, something is either secret or it isn’t. It can’t be somewhat secret.

Military services have secret codes.  Enemies try to crack the codes and, sooner or later, they succeed. Then they are no longer secret.

James Bond is a secret agent. But he is always telling people who he is and what he does, so he really is more of a public agent.  Of course, that is the movies and in real life, there could be secret agents and they really are secret because nobody knows who they are.

Years ago when television came in black and white, there was a program called “I’ve Got a Secret.” A panel of celebrities would try to determine the occupation of a guest by asking only “yes” and “no” questions.  If the guest was a celebrity (Bishop Fulton Sheen once appeared), the panelists would wear masks and the guest would disguise his voice. The show lasted just 30 minutes, so the secret didn’t last long.

I got to thinking about all this secret stuff when the Vatican announced earlier this week that Pope Francis is changing the name of the Vatican Secret Archives to the Vatican Apostolic Archives.

As the center of the Catholic Church, I think the Vatican should have an archive that is apostolic rather than secret. The archive is essentially a repository of old papers and historic stuff. Everyone knows where it is and you can find pictures of the outside and inside of it with a simple internet search.

Scholars visit the archives. World leaders have their pictures taken in the archives. There doesn’t seem to be much really secret about the place. On the other hand, you can’t just wander in there off the street and have your sack lunch with a soda. There are rules.

After pondering on this I concluded that most of the things called “secret” aren’t the least bit secret. It is the things I don’t know about that are secret.

A Rose by Any Other Name…

Last month the sensitive folks on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to give a linguistic break to those deserving people long referred to as convicted felons.

What progressive names do they have for criminals?

  • Formerly incarcerated person
  • Justice-involved person
  • Returning resident

Red_rose_with_black_backgroundI’m not making this up. And I admit that a person who has been in jail and comes home to the city by the bay would, technically speaking, be a returning resident.

In a similar manner, a juvenile delinquent becomes a “young person with justice system involvement.”  A druggie becomes a “person with a history of substance use”.

I guess this is designed to produce a kinder, gentler justice system. And heaven knows, Christians believe in forgiveness and second chances. We Catholics have the sacrament of confession. We know that God can forgive any sin; we also know that we have to pay temporal penalties for our sins.

For example, if you rob a bank you can go to confession and gain God’s forgiveness. But you’ll also have to make restitution and may spend a few years in jail.

If you are a priest and you abuse a child you may receive God’s forgiveness – although Jesus had some serious comments about those who would harm a child (check out Matthew 18:6). In the meantime, you will likely go to jail and will certainly never again be trusted around children.

In my mind, once you have paid your debt to society you can be forgiven and make a new start but you still are a convicted felon. You have earned that label. And your new start may be witnessing to the forgiveness of Christ from a prison cell.

Christ was not into euphemisms. He called sinners, sinners; he called sin, sin.

The reality revisionists in San Francisco can try putting a nice name on sin but it is, as the old saw goes, just putting lipstick on a pig. The city fathers need to remember their job isn’t to make pretty pigs but to prevent pigs from harming the community.

Lessons from a Letter

letterLetter to a Suffering Church by Bishop Robert Barron won’t be on anyone’s recreational reading list for summer vacation. It isn’t a lot of fun and there isn’t a plot any fiction writer would claim.

It is occasionally shocking and a bit raw in places. Bishop Barron writes honestly, directly, with unapologetic emotion.

Nobody will read this book for fun or entertainment. Some may read it because they think they should. Many will read it because there is a question eating at them; given all the scandal in the Church today why should I be a Catholic?

Because he is such a lucid thinker and writer, Bishop Barron answers this question in a little book of a hundred pages. He insists this is no time to leave the Church, but understands why many feel so discouraged. He pulls no punches in pointing out the obvious truth of Catholic history:

  • The membership of the Church has included horrible sinners from the very start.
  • Some of the worse sinners have been Popes.
  • Sexual abuse of males, females, young and old, has been a periodic and persistent problem.
  • The truth of our faith doesn’t become invalid because many of us fail miserably to live up to its ideal.
  • The current crisis may be the worst crisis faced by the Church in North America but the global Church has faced worse.
  • For things to be fixed will require heroic holiness, faith, and action by the laity.

Given all of this, I expect many of you – like me – have slumped out of bed on a Sunday morning of late and wondered why bother to attend Mass? There is so much that is not Christian about the Church, right?

I feel like a politician I once heard explain why he was leaving a political party that had dramatically changed its ideology. As he told it, he wasn’t leaving the party because it had already left him.

And, yes, there have been moments when I have felt that the Church has left me.  Oh, ME of little faith!

Corrupt and evil politicians ruin governments and nations. Dishonest business leaders ruin companies. Cheaters turn champion sports teams into losers.

Yet, every sort of nitwit, scoundrel, adulterer, sexual predator, thief, and liar over 2,000 years has not been able to topple the Church.

Bishop Barron gives the simple answer to the question “why stay”: the Eucharist. That really is enough but there is more.

When Jesus saw many of his followers discouraging, leaving because his teachings were too difficult, the Lord asked his disciples if they would also leave. Peter gave the answer that we all must give: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the word of eternal life.”

I’m going to follow Bishop Barron’s plea: stay and fight.

We’ll Always Have Paris

1024px-Batcolumn_(14581985852)As I look at pictures of the smoldering Cathedral of Notre Dame, is it possible to feel hope? Why not sorrow, despair, and anger?

In fact, I do feel those negative emotions but I also have hope. The hope springs from the reactions I see and hear in people around the world. Tears and anguish demonstrate that people really care about this great cathedral of Europe; perhaps they care more about the faith than their normally secular behavior suggests.

I doubt I need to cite numbers to show how the Catholic faith has declined in Western Europe over the past several decades. I’m sure that more Europeans are drinking Bloody Marys than are attending church on a Sunday morning.

Perhaps a burning Cathedral will change things or at least start a change. People are upset about the fire for various reasons:

  • God’s home burned
  • An architectural treasure was marred
  • The tourist trade will be hurt
  • French culture is threatened
  • It was a place to meditate and pray
  • It was a quiet place to avoid the noise of the city
  • The music was beautiful
  • The windows were beautiful

Today, the place is a wreck. But it seems all the things that people are missing will be brought back. You might even say the cathedral will be resurrected, which is quite appropriate for this time of year. That brings hope. And it suggests that despite how secular the culture has become, there remains a Catholic conscious deep within French hearts.

The Cathedral was – and will be again – beautiful. And it represents faith, truth, and 2000 years of the greatest story ever told. Yes, as corny as it sounds, it is a symbol of all things good. Deep down, even the doubting atheists know it.

The president of France vows that the cathedral will be rebuilt in five years. I have my doubts about that. It took a couple centuries to build it. And while we have more sophisticated tools than the original builders, I bet they had more master artists at their disposal.

The French plan a competition to pick a design for a new spire for the cathedral.  This sends shivers up my spine.

The goal should be to RESTORE the building, not create some new look.  I fear we could end up with something like the Seattle Space Needle perched atop the classic architecture. This is a time for reverence for tradition, not creative flights of fancy.

However, as an artistic aside, we have what I consider to be among art’s worst creations in Chicago, the Batcolumn, by Claes Oldenburg. It is only about a third as high as the fallen spire but I have to think the city would give it to Paris, provided the French pay the shipping. And having a giant metal baseball bat on top of the cathedral would give it an international appeal: a return favor for the French gift of the Statue of Liberty.

It doesn’t appear that money will be a problem to restore Notre Dame.  Some wealthy people already have pledged big bucks and collections are being organized around the world. I wouldn’t turn down any contributors. But I hope the money comes in small denominations

Current estimates are that the restoration will cost upwards of a billion dollars. There are about 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. So if we all pitch in a buck it should be enough to do the job.

It would seem so proper for each of us to have a part in this. It would be a truly Catholic thing.

The Least We Can Do

3579096098_41f2b10826_b“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”  – the 8th amendment to the U.S. Constitution

A few weeks ago in Chicago (the big city just down the road from my house), a cop was convicted of killing a kid. There didn’t seem to be much doubt that the cop killed the kid; it was captured on bodycam and he shot him 17 times.

Everyone agreed 17 shots was a bit excessive. The only debate (which continues) is whether the sentence was severe enough.

But for this discussion, please just accept – for the sake of argument – that the cop was guilty and the sentence what he deserved.

Off to jail went the cop. And shortly thereafter he was severely beaten by other inmates in the prison.

Apparently, that is expected if you are a white cop who kills a black kid and gets sent to a prison with a great many black inmates. It would seem that some of the prisoners are not model citizens.

I’m sure there are many folks who think the cop got what he deserved. But that goes against the 8th amendment – as well as my sense of right and wrong.

When a judge passes sentence on a convicted criminal for a serious crime, he gives him time in jail. That is a punishment because it deprives the individual of freedom. It also protects society from the possibility the criminal will offend again. And, at least we hope, it offers the criminal time to reflect and repent, and, perhaps, get training or education that will help him when he returns to free society.

Notice that the judge never says, “I’m sentencing you to five years in prison, on the conditions that you will be beaten by your fellow inmates and suffer rape and other sexual humiliations.”

Unfortunately, this particular cop was beaten. And unless all the stories about sex in prison are made up, many inmates suffer what can only be called cruel and unusual.

This is a disgrace. And we are a society with strong enough morals – and the means – to stop it.

I know some will call me naïve and soft on crime. It would cost a fortune. These are the dregs of society and we shouldn’t waste time, energy, and money coddling criminals.

Yet, a society truly will be judged by how it treats the least of its members. And these are in so many ways the least of us. They have failed. They are being punished. Let’s make sure they are punished by our standards, not the standards of the jungle.

Dropping the Bowl

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I have reached a point in life that I never anticipated. It is unexpected, difficult to accept, and to some degree painful to talk about.

This is somewhat embarrassing for a red-blooded American man to admit. I certainly won’t volunteer it in either polite or impolite company.

But here it is; I may have watched my last Super Bowl.

There it is. I actually wrote the words. I’m on the record. And now I must explain my reasons for this betrayal of American sportsmanship.

The decision (which is still provisional) came to me after the 2019 game in which New England beat Los Angeles 13-3. By any standard, it was a boring event. And that is just the actual football part. A championship game that features three field goals and one touchdown is decidedly a demonstration of offensive futility.

But beyond the boredom of the play, it was made more boring by how interrupted it was by commercials, reviews of plays, and a halftime show that seemed to last forever. I honestly can’t remain focused on a sporting event that has more interruptions than sporting action.

And for the most part, the interruptions were sophomoric.

Perhaps there were viewers who were thrilled by the lead singer of Maroon Five taking off his shirt and strutting around in his semi-buff torso and tattoos. And he was better than the rap stuff. Not my cup of tea.

In fact, I must now make a serious personal confession. My wife and I take dance lessons and not long ago did a routine to a Maroon Five song: “Moves Like Jagger.” I solemnly promise never again to go down that shameful road.

But returning to the Super Bowl, perhaps the problem with the halftime show is people want to make it more than the break in a football game is designed for.  Why all the massive production?  I’d rather see (and hear) the marching band from the University of Illinois.

But just to be fair, there was one positive musical note in the eight hours of pre, during, and post coverage: Gladys Knight singing the National Anthem. God bless her for singing the song with maturity, dignity, grace, and talent.

Then there are the commercials. The brilliant advertising agencies that designed the ads clearly were not targeting me. I don’t like robots. I don’t care what Hollywood stars drink. I don’t drink beer.

Looking back on the majority of the commercials – even those that were faintly amusing – I can’t remember what they were selling. I guess being cute and clever is more important than selling chips and cars.

I watched the game until the boring end, then skipped the award ceremony and thought about better ways I could have spent the previous several hours. Here are a few of the preferred options…

  1. Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
  2. Engage in some solid spiritual reading.
  3. Talk a walk with my wife.
  4. Sort out my fishing tackle so I’m ready for spring.
  5. Clean out all the old files on my computer.
  6. Watch an old movie that doesn’t have graphic violence or naked people.
  7. Play with the grandkids.
  8. Clean the garage.
  9. Go dancing.
  10. Write another blog.

Those are some of the options I’m considering. Of course, if the Bears make it to the Super Bowl next year, all of this sanctimonious and superior posturing goes out the window. In that event, I’ll be glued in front of the TV and will put up with whatever stupid ways people come up with to sell hamburgers and roasted nuts. And I’ll enjoy the halftime show with the band Chicago and the Blues Brothers.

Wonder Woman

pexels-photo-266093The world has many accomplished women.

The leaders of Great Britain and Germany are women.

Major companies led by women include Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, DuPont Chemical, Xerox, Sunoco, and Archer Daniels Midland.

Then there are the “powerful” and “influential” women: Melinda Gates, Ivanka Trump, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Serena Williams, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

These are women who have worked hard and achieved great success. They have made a great deal of money, live in big houses, have lots of people to care for them, have someone to drive them around in the limo, eat at the finest restaurants, fly on private jets, get to sit in a skybox at the Super Bowl, and are hounded for autographs by their admirers.

In short, these are women the world sees as the model of success. Each is a “wonder woman” in her own right.

Then there is Marianne Wren, 80, of Cottonwood, Idaho.

According to the Lewiston Tribune, she was a homemaker and sold Avon products for many years. She also worked as a librarian at Prairie Community Library and for Summit Academy in Cottonwood.

Her hobbies include playing cards and games, scrapbooking, sewing, quilting, and watching her grandchildren’s extracurricular and sporting activities. She is a member of the St. Mary’s Guild, Regnum Christi, and Christian Mothers, all at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, and the Sunshine Club and card groups.

Last Saturday, a Mass was held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Cottonwood in honor of her 80th birthday. The Mass was celebrated by her son, Fr. Bruce Wren, LC.  I don’t know Marianne, but Fr. Bruce is a friend, author, and poet.

I’m pretty sure Marianne doesn’t have a limo driver, private jet or tickets to the Super Bowl.  On the other hand, I bet she is welcome at the best restaurants in Cottonwood.

Her name will never be spoken in the same sentence as the women mentioned above, but in my mind, she is about the most accomplished woman you could ever imagine.

She and her husband have seven sons, four daughters, 60 grandchildren, and 22 great-grandchildren. That isn’t a career that typically leads to fame and fortune. But it does lead to a likely place in heaven, not to mention the preservation of the human race.

The world owes Marianne Wren the greatest thanks. She is the real wonder woman.