Bravely forward I go

teeth-887338_960_720Yesterday was my day of bravery.  I left my home, alone and unsupported in my moment of challenge.  A short drive and I arrived at the place where I would offer myself for assessment and potential discomfort.

Yes, I went to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned.  Having my teeth cleaned isn’t painful, but my dentist is thorough almost always finds something that requires further attention.  Perhaps a cavity or a crack in a tooth.  Yesterday, she recommended a cap for a crumbling molar; I said I’ll procrastinate until my next cleaning.  Getting a tooth cap isn’t physically painful, but financially so.

A couple years ago, my dentist sent me to a specialized oral surgeon to have some specialized work on my very special gums.  The doctor did a fine job and it didn’t hurt much (physically).

I like my dentist and have great confidence in her judgement and skills.  But she doesn’t do the specialized work she sent me down the road to receive.  And it never occurred to me to demand she do the work – or sue her if she refused.  I don’t think it makes sense to force someone to poke around in your mouth who doesn’t want to be there.

So…I’m mentioning all this to cautiously sneak into the subject of sex-transition surgery.  This is both more serious and more silly than dentistry.  But like dentistry, it requires certain skills and isn’t to be taken lightly.

I recently read about a woman who wants to be a man, for which she wants to undergo surgery.  The thought of such surgery is inconceivable to me.  And such surgery is inconceivable to the private Catholic hospital where the woman desiring manhood asked to have her surgery.

The hospital explained that it is Catholic and doesn’t do surgery that runs counter to God’s plan, which doesn’t include trying to surgically convert women to men.  As could easily be predicted, the woman and the hospital now are embroiled in a lawsuit.  The woman says she has suffered terrible discrimination and, of course, is getting help from the American Civil Liberties Union.

As I said earlier, this is both serious and silly. It is serious because a Catholic hospital should never have to defend its practice of the Catholic faith.  And it is silly because, well, I can’t imagine suing someone to operate on a part of me they don’t want to operate on – especially THOSE parts.

Beyond the fine print

passengers-519008_1920I starting traveling more than…well…a long time ago.  When I was young, inexperienced and a bit nervous about flying, I probably read the fine print that comes with an airline ticket.

Lawyers write the fine print.  It is there so, in the event the flight doesn’t go as planned, they can say they warned you it might be cancelled, delayed or sent to an unscheduled stop.  You might lose your seat and/or your luggage.  You are reminded that the flight crew is in charge and must be obeyed.

There isn’t anything in the fine print about being dragged off the plane kicking and screaming and having a video of your performance go viral on social media.  But as we’re learned in the past few days, those are possibilities.

A doctor got on a United flight from to O’Hare to Louisville.  United sold more tickets than it had seats.  United picked some folks to take off the plane.  The doctor wouldn’t leave, so the always gentle Chicago Aviation Police thugs dragged him off.

As the police and doctor crossed the jet bridge, I’m sure an official alert went out to journalists and slip-and-fall lawyers:  opportunity is knocking.  A passenger videoed the events, so there is great fodder for further discussion.  And next thing you know there are news stories, radio commentaries, limp apologies by United, following by more stern apologies, following by some groveling.

Now it will all go to court.  United will claim it followed proper procedure, it is all very unfortunate and is being overblown.  The doctor’s legal team will claim he was injured both physically and psychologically and will never be the same again – although a few million bucks will salve his suffering.

The personal life of the doctor, the police who arrested him, the passengers, the pilots and anyone else within 100 yards of the plane when the incident occurred will likely be subject to public scrutiny.  Something controversial will be found in every personal history.

I’ve been a spokesman for a major oil company and a Catholic religious congregation.  Oil companies handle materials that blow up and catch fire, so that job had its challenges.  As for the religious congregation, there has been a good deal of controversy.

As a result, I feel deep empathy for the United spokesman who has to talk with the press about this.  I don’t know the person or the players involved, but I can predict the following with near certainty:

  • There was a discussion with senior management about how much blame to accept – or to place on the passenger.
  • Company lawyers advise against saying anything that can and will be used against the company in court – which means don’t say anything.
  • The spokesman is trying to put a happy face on a mess he didn’t create.
  • The spokesman likely had advised long ago that something like this could happen and suggested procedures to avoid it, which were ignored.

United and other airlines need to recall the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”  I propose several practical applications for airlines:

  • If you sell a person a ticket on a plane, don’t give their seat to anyone else.
  • Never intentionally overbook.
  • If you make a mistake, don’t put people on the plane and then try to get someone to get off.
  • If you don’t have the seat you sold to someone, don’t expect to make them happy by giving them a seat on the next flight, a dinner voucher for a meal in the airport and/or a travel voucher to use later. Give the traveler a big, fat check or cold hard cash and cover any additional expenses they incur because you messed up.

My advice to airline customers?  Next time, drive.

This is about losers, of which I most certainly am one

loserNCAA March Madness. One team wins and the rest lose their final game of the year

20,000 runners start the Chicago Marathon Only one crosses the finish line first, leaving 19,999 losers. Some don’t even finish the race

50 women compete in the Miss America contest, which produces one perfect beauty and 49 plain Janes

Kids participate in sports today and everybody gets a participation trophy.  But in later life, the shock will come when they learn they lose more than they win.

Oddly, there are situations where high performers miss more than they connect.  A baseball player who hits 300 is a star.  That stat means he fails 70 percent of the time.

The best hockey players miss 4-5 shots for every one they make.  I guess the only players who aren’t total losers are the goalies.

And think about soccer – those losers run all over the field and hardly ever make a score.

Losing…failing…seems to be all part of life.  And then you die.

It would be a truly miserable existence – if we accept the description of winning and losing I’ve presented.

Very few win it all, and sometimes those who do are blinded by their success and miss the things that really matter:  hope, faith, love, mercy, forgiveness, sacrifice, humility.

Every person is a sinner. We are humbled (or at least should be) by our imperfections, shortcomings and failures. No matter how hard we try, we mess up.

Because of this, how blessed we are to have our Catholic faith.  We receive mercy and forgiveness we don’t merit, that was earned for us by the Son of God.

Some things I’m happy to lose:  shame, guilt, fear, anger, resentment, self-pity.  Losing can be beautiful.

The longer I live and the more I sin, go to confession, sin some more, confess some more…the more I think the losses I have experienced have allowed me to win at the most important game of life:  accepting myself, loving myself, know that I’m a child of God.

And I’ve finally come to terms with the sad fact that I’m never going to be a rock star.


I’m against it

taxesIt is the season of local elections in my quiet Chicago suburb.  In a few days, we’ll be voting for board members for an elementary school district, high school district, junior college, park district and library board.  There are others, but I’d have to look at the sample ballot to remember them all.

All the candidates have two things in common:

  1. They claim to support prudent spending.
  2. They want to expand programs and buildings.

I’m no financial genius, but it is difficult to reconcile these two approaches.  Having said that, the elementary school district uses a novel approach.  They claim that if I vote for their bond proposal my taxes will go down.  This is a remarkable twisting of the facts, likely to be difficult to follow, but I’ll try to explain.

The district is paying off its last bond issue, which means taxes will go down.  If the new bond issue passes, it will raise taxes, but less than they go down with the payoff of the previous issues.  What the pro-bond campaign doesn’t mention is that if the new bonds are rejected, my taxes will go down twice as much.

I know this is confusing.  But I do understand why the district wants more money; they want to build additions that would eliminate the need for portable classrooms at a couple schools.  The “portable” classrooms are used at schools across the country and are nicer than the homes millions of Americans live in.

But instead of building more classrooms, there would be the option of putting more kids in a smaller number of classrooms, rearranging space or staggering some subjects.  I’ve been on the boards of several Catholic schools and those are the sorts of things Catholics do.  But this is a public district. So the answer to a problem is to raise taxes.  That’s how wants turn into needs.

Catholic schools – and the parents who send their children to them – have learned to be satisfied with needs and let wants go.  When parents pay tuition (above the public school property taxes) to send their kids to Catholic school, they get really cost conscious.  They understand that education is a mission that often requires doing more with less.

I can pick out the Catholic-occupied homes in my neighborhood.  They have the most toys in the yard and the most obvious evidence of deferred maintenance.  If you have several kids and are sending them to Catholic school, you likely don’t have a landscape service and annual exterior painting.

But you have a better chance of producing the next generation of practicing Christians.

Campaign signs have sprouted up in every yard in my neighborhood.  They all ask for something.  On the surface, they want my vote.  Beneath that, most want access to my bank account.

I really wish various government organizations would stop trying to do more and try to figure out ways to avoid interfering in my life.  To demonstrate my commitment to non-support, I posted my own yard sign quoting Groucho Marx, “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”

The world needs more Grouchos.

Reporting to the limit

Brain_01Until a few days ago, I had never heard of a CNN program called “Believer – with Reza Aslan.”  But a headline about the show was so startling that I read the article and did a little research.
The headline:  Reza Aslan eats human brain on new CNN show ‘Believer’.
I’m not making this up; it is a real show and the “reporter” really ate human brain.  This begs the question of how far a reporter will go for a story, how much must a reporter experience to share with readers or viewers the “truth.”
I’m sure it isn’t as far as eating someone’s brain, in this case with an obscure sect of supposed Hindus.  (Hindus have universally condemned the report – except I presume the small group of brain-eaters who Aslan visited.)
I wondered why anyone would pursue such a story, so I visited the program’s website.  And there I found the answer:  “In this new spiritual adventure series, renowned author and religious scholar Reza Aslan immerses himself in the world’s most fascinating faith-based groups to experience life as a true believer.”
Frankly, looking at the stories listed on the site, a better description would be:  “A guy who wrote a controversial book looks for the most obscure, shocking and disgusting sects on earth and hangs out with them doing weird things that will shock you.”
I doubt you need to be a scholar to hang with cannibals.  You really need to have really bad taste and a demagnetized moral compass.  And I can think of only two reasons to do it.
First, you just want to shock everyone and boost ratings for a television show.  I guess promising to dive into bazaar spiritual practices could generate an uptick in ratings.
Second, you subscribe to the journalistic perversion that to really report on a subject, you must immerse yourself in it.  This can be reasonable, as when a reporter spends a day as a substitute teacher to learn what it is like to be in front of 30 teenagers.  But few would suggest that to do a story on drug addiction a reporter should take heroin.  Few would suggest a crime reporter should take up robbery to better understand the criminal mind.
Perhaps Reza Aslan can only learn by doing.  But I think I could learn everything I would ever want to know about cannibalism without being a full participant.
In the case of the show “Believer,” I believe I can learn everything I need to know about the program without actually watching it.  I’d rather watch The Food Network.

What is truth?

Eccehomo1Pilate asked the question.  Christ was the answer.  He still is.  And as it has been for more than 2000 years, some find the answer and many do not.

In daily life, I have always believed that truth was a beautiful combination of faith, hope, love and doing the next right thing.  The next right thing is what is honest and in many cases – simply what must be done.

I guess I’m pretty much a black-and-white kind of guy.  If everyone followed the Golden Rule and the 10 Commandments, the world would be a caring, safe place.

We live under a democratic form of government.  For such a government to work, people need common values and a common sense of right and wrong.  People have to agree on truth.

Agreement eludes us.  We find exceptions to each of the 10 Commandments.  Certainly, the law against murder shouldn’t apply to an unborn child or an elderly person not enjoying a proper quality of life.  Certainly, the law against adultery shouldn’t apply when your spouse gains 40 pounds or suffers a disabling injury.  The government isn’t really stealing when it raises your taxes or takes your property for its own purposes.

And what of lying?  It seems that lying is acceptable if you get away with it – or it supports a “greater good.”  This was the thinking behind the Hitler/Goebbels use of the “Big Lie.”  If you are going to say something untrue about your opponent, make it a whopper. People will think there is no way you would make up such a thing – and the mere scale of it requires vetting.

The news media are horrible suckers for the big lie.  So we get days or even weeks of reports that a goofy film caused the destruction of an American embassy, the Russians manipulated our election results and the Pope isn’t strongly pro-life.

We’ve slithered into a post-truth world where facts are less important than allegations, where the ends justify the means, where you say anything to further your agenda.  Reality is what works, not what is real.

Among the various professions that affect our lives, nurses and doctors poll the highest for honesty and ethical behavior.  The lowest scores go to members of congress.  Ironically, the people we trust the least will determine the future of the people we trust the most.  That’s what happens in a culture where truth has lost the power to persuade and the biggest lie carries the day.

We must do better than Pilate.

Role Models

barbara_pierce_bush_at_spotlight_health_aspen_ideas_festival_2015Among the many emails I receive each day is a news digest from  I don’t read all the articles, but skim the headlines and click on the ones that pique my interest.

A couple days ago, each of the first two articles involved an attractive young women commenting on issues of life.  The headlines suggested their views were miles apart, and the proximity of the two stories enhanced what, to me, was considerable irony.

Woman number one, Barbara Pierce Bush, is the daughter of former President George W. Bush and granddaughter of former President George H. W. Bush.  While I’m sure being a first daughter has its downsides, anyone who spends many of her formative years living in the White House has to have lived a rather charmed life.  Having Secret Service protection, servants, a limousine and a seat on Air Force One would be a real kick.  She attended Yale and has been involved in various charitable efforts.

adriana-lima_chgo_2010-12-10_photoby-bielawskiWoman number two, Adriana Lima, is among the highest-paid supermodels in the world.  She is one of the stars of the Victoria’s Secret promotions, which involves lots of running about in fancy underwear.  She is Brazilian, married a Serbian basketball star, had a couple kids, then got divorced.

As I said, one of the women is pro-life – the other pro-abortion.  But you might not immediately guess which is which.

Barbara Bush spoke to Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas last week.  She has been an advocate for abortion and same-sex marriage.  She told the Texas group:  “To me, Planned Parenthood is a one-stop shop for everything that has to do with women’s health and all social problems that don’t have to do with women’s health.  I hope you all realize the incredible investment that you’re making for both women and also their kids, their kids’ education and their income level.”

I think you can read between the lines of this rather said quote.

Adriana Lima is openly Roman Catholic and says she remained virgin until her marriage.  She says abortion is a crime, sex is for after marriage and that is something men must respect.  And she says her children inspire her.

I believe a live child is more inspiring than one who has been aborted.

So…we have a pro-life model and a pro-abortion descendent of Presidents.  Common sense and faith can show up where least expected.  And privilege never ensures decency.


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.