Sunday, December 31, 2017

Muscle head

I love college football too much. In recent years, I have overspent my valuable time watching games, almost always on TV versus seated in the bleachers on a crisp fall afternoon.

Yesterday, I saw something rare during ESPN's telecast of the 2017 Orange Bowl contest between the University of Wisconsin Badgers and "the U" (as in the University of Miami) Hurricanes. During the game, the broadcast team of Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Molly McGrath highlighted the off-field achievements of star Hurricane receiver, Braxton Berrios. Turns out, the talented senior graduated December 15 with a near-perfect grade point average, a whopping 3.961. That means he probably scored one B in one course while earning a double major in finance and entrepreneurship and Valedictorian ranking from Miami's School of Business Administration.

Unfortunately, you're not likely to hear many stories like this one. However, if a college baller goes to jail for a DUI, smacking his girlfriend or shoplifting a shirt from a department store, it will make national headlines. There is actually a Web site called College Football Arrest Nation that lists players who have tangled with the cops. When I Googled "college football academic stars" I don't see anything comparable. Just a list of the nations top 25 college football teams ranked by academics.

Ask any fan who won the Heisman Trophy for best pigskin player in the land and you'll get the answer before you can say "Boomer Sooner!" But quiz the same group about who snagged the William V. Campbell Trophy for 2017 and I'll bet you hear crickets. The National Football Foundation (NFF) and College Hall of Fame awards the hardware to the football player who demonstrates he's the best scholar-athlete in the land. That means the guy is also a leader community service.

With as much negative attention as the media gives to athletes who lose their way, we owe it to society to showcase those who counter the unfair stereotype. How about some high profile, front-page feature stories on the guys who earned William V. Campbell Trophy nominations? I want to learn more about these men who have developed impressive brain power while pumping iron and competing on the gridiron. What makes them tick? How do they balance school and the demands of sports? What are their dreams for life after the game?

By the way, Berrios was one of the finalists for the Campbell Trophy. University of Virginia linebacker, Micah Kiser is the 2017 winner, earning First Team All-America honors while leading the Atlantic Athletic Conference in tackles per game for the third consecutive season.

If you'd like to see Kiser in the spotlight he deserves, tune into the College Football Playoff (CFP) National Championship on January 8, 2018 where he'll be recognized during the game.

Many Heisman Trophy winners don't amount to much on the NFL stage. But the guy who hefts the William V. Campbell Trophy has already done some genuine heavy lifting in the game of life.

Read more here:

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Wherever home is

Long before Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa or other forms of electronic convenience, I enjoyed the benefits of a human news aggregator. My wife, Ellen, commonly reads me lead paragraphs of news stories across the breakfast table. Ellen is ever exploring the world through the window of her smart phone or tablet.

This week, she shared bits of an article about the heartbreak of the holidays. One source estimated that eight percent (8%) of American families are estranged from loved ones. Some go years without seeing parents, siblings or children.

I had two conversations recently with dear friends who shared painful, personal struggles to reconcile with siblings after enduring repeated friction and injury. It hurt me to listen to their stories so I can only imagine their pain during the holidays.

Truthfully, few families are free of frazzled relationships. We tap dance around misunderstandings or twist ourselves into emotional pretzels as we confront resentments we've failed to let go.

If you're considering declining an invitation to a Christmas celebration, or crossing a family member off your guest list, or letting that phone call go to voice mail, consider this: there are millions who won't be home for the holidays.

I know a nurse who begs for clothing donations so her emergency room can dress homeless people after they've received care. Frequently, medical personnel have to scissor garments off inured bodies in order to quickly provide treatment. Most homeless have no one to bring them fresh duds. They're wearing all the clothes they own, and their families have often disowned them.

Meanwhile, somewhere tonight, a mother is crying because she doesn't know where her teenage daughter is. The same young face that once devoured Mom's Christmas cookies and smothered her with hugs and kisses. Another teen is halfway around the world serving in uniform and risking life and limb longing for Christmas at home, while a suffering senior rocks in a lonely corner of a nursing home wondering why she had never married.

While the rest of us sleep early on December 25th, chefs and culinary teams will head for work so sick people can receive fresh, healthy meals that day. As you're carving your roast or bird, a cop will be grabbing a coffee when his radio blares a call to respond to an unthinkable crime -- gashing the holiday spirit he's trying to keep alive in his heart.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's Day or none of the above, the chance to reconnect with those who've loved us is priceless. The reason for the season is greater than any individual person. It's an annual reminder that we are members of a family that spans time and space and that we are all inextricably connected. Something, most of us don't appreciate until there's no water at the tap; the power goes out; we suddenly lose our good health or someone dies much too young. Then we become aware and grateful for what we take for granted.

The call of Christmas is for me to acknowledge that I can be very ungrateful for my blessings. And year after year it also teaches me I have much for which to apologize; some things so selfish I can barely muster the courage to share them with my priest.

For me, Christmas is about profound humility, forgiveness and reconciliation with the source of all love and mercy.  It's the day God turned the other cheek.

So I have to ask myself, if I have been forgiven, how can I refuse to forgive? And charity begins at home, wherever home is.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

There's still time

Santa Claus visited our church today. He welcomed people at the front door; he walked with the procession to the altar; he gave gold coins filled with chocolate to little ones after Mass.

Jolly old St. Nick said, "Ho-Ho-Holy" and asked one little girl a defining question as she walked away from him, "Do you know whose birthday we celebrate on Christmas?"

She looked back over her shoulder and said, "God's!"

Hearing it, stopped me in my tracks. Indeed, Christmas is supposed to celebrate the incarnation of our  Creator, little baby Jesus born in Bethlehem.

Then why is it that we receive presents on December 25? It's not our big day.

Christmas is really about a monumental blessing of the world. The divine stepping into our skin and taking on the limits of time and space within the messiness of humanity.

Have you decided what you will give him this year? It's not too late.

We have friends back in Detroit who have spent Christmas morning having breakfast with the homeless. At the time, there were just the three in their family, so they thought the best way to grow their table was to serve the neediest in the community.

Then there are those who forgo exchanging gifts altogether and instead make a significant donation to a worthy charity in hopes of lifting up the suffering.

By far, my favorite idea comes from those who don't celebrate Christmas at all. Again this year, Detroit's Jewish Community Relations Council will team up with the Michigan Muslim Community Council for Mitzvah Day on Christmas. A mitzvah in Hebrew means more than a good deed; it's the observance of a commandment to do good and avoid evil. So, on Christmas and the days approaching it, these two non-Christian groups will volunteer at charities so their Christian brothers and sisters can enjoy their special holy day. Jews and Muslims will work for free in soup kitchens, homeless shelters and the like. They will feed and comfort and spend time with those who are sick.

And Detroit is not alone. Other communities across the nation perform Christmas mitzvahs.

Can you imagine how the almighty must feel when all those who claim to love him are united around the day dedicated to honoring his generosity.

There is still time to give yourself to the source of all life and love.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas clicking

The moment I saw the Amazon box I knew the fedora inside was crushed. It was just too shallow for that hat to fit. Sure enough, when I cracked open the package, the lid inside was dimpled and damaged.

Quickly clicking the "View or manage order" button on my e-mail, I discovered there were no orders in my account! A phone call to Amazon returns revealed I had inadvertently created two accounts. Ten more minutes on hold and I had a political apology and the return label sliding onto my printer tray. Since my afternoon phone conference was postponed until Monday, it was off to the post office with the smashed felt hat in the carton and then to the mall. We couldn't take the chance so close to Christmas that the massive online retailer would get it right the second time.

Traffic in Chicago was thick on Friday afternoon as we wound our way up I-94 to Skokie for Macy's at the Old Orchard Mall.  It took 30 minutes to navigate the bottlenecks and find a parking spot but it was worth it. There were deep discounts on top of markdowns making the opportunity for great buys and brisk shopping. And the service was wonderfully old fashioned.

Gift boxes and tissue paper flowed and even offers to package our purchases for us. When I found a sweater with a snag, the clerk sent her manager to the back room too search for the right size. She returned with an armful of pristine garments to consider.

There were no coupon codes to Google, the cashier identified the maximum savings and printed gift receipts. We felt the texture of materials and judged the sizes for accuracy. The store staff engaged us in conversations about pets, Sunday afternoon dinners, the quality of the products, and color coordinating accessories.

But by far, the best came during our last transaction when the cashier asked my wife, Ellen, "Can I give you a hug?" They had swapped stories about their churches.

Make no mistake, Christmas clicking on Amazon and cyber Monday is very convenient and has lit a fire under the Yule log of American retailers. Fierce online competition is helping to re-energize the concept of customer service in stores. And I'm truly grateful! Because there's something about rubbing shoulders with the crowds, listening to Christmas carols playing in the background and exchanging good cheer with friendly sales clerks that help to make the season bright.

Happy hunting.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Channeling Your Inner Claus

Serious actors diligently research the characters they portray, sometimes hanging out with real people in unusual professions or tiptoeing along the margins of life with those living on the edge.

With some of us playing Santa this time of year, we might as well know a little about the real person we're pretending to be.

St. Nicholas of Myra was about 17 when his parents both died of an epidemic disease in a region we know as Turkey today. Inheriting significant family wealth, he faced real financial decisions as he prepared to become a priest. Nicholas gave away his riches to the poor and signed up for the clergy. By 30, he was ordained a bishop. Folks called him "the boy Bishop" because he was so young for the job.

But it was not his rank that earned St. Nick his legendary distinction. It was his humility. He was quietly generous to those in need. In one situation, he waited until night to secretly deliver three bags of gold to pay for the dowries of three young sisters whose mother had died. As the story goes, the merciful bishop tossed the money into the girls' stockings that were drying by the fire while they slept. The gifts probably came from his inheritance.

Living as a Christian about 300 years after Jesus walked the earth, Nicholas was committed to closely following him, including the instruction to keep your charity a secret. That led to Santa's late night deliveries. Tradition says he helped those starving in famine and once slapped a heretic in the face. The Roman emperor, Diocletian, imprisoned St. Nicholas because he wouldn't deny his belief in Jesus. The saint survived Rome's harsh persecution of Christians and was released when Constantine took the throne and converted to the faith.

Today, in most of the world, children receive gifts on December 6, St. Nicholas' feast day in the Catholic Church. In Holland, Sinterklaas arrives by ship from Spain and rides a horse named Amerigo. In France, he's known as Pere Noel. In Spain, Papa Noel. Russian children call him Grandfather Frost. In the United States, Madison Avenue has repurposed the patron saint of children to become the ultimate pitchman for toy companies, sugary sodas and even sultry undergarments to the suggestive lyrics of "Santa Baby."

As you slip into your long white beard, body suit and red coat, remember your playing a man some people speak to in prayer. It's important we always stay in character. Especially around kids.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Artificial intelligence feeds on genuine thoughtlessness

Back in high school, one of my science teachers proclaimed that every fifty years, we double all our previous knowledge. Imagine that, taking all we know from Cro-Magnon to numbering chromosomes  and multiplying it by two in just a half-century.

Flash forward to this week when I heard an interview that quoted tech genius, Elon Musk, warning that artificial intelligence (AI)  is the equivalent of "summoning the demon." Musk and other giant thinkers like Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking have been pounding that drum of precaution about the pace of progress on AI -- or demonic machines that can perform as humans, and eventually replace us.

In the next twenty years, computers will gain the ability to virtually see and listen and then the jobs will really topple. This is an eventuality that we are enabling every time we snap a photo of a check and make a deposit pretending to be virtual bank tellers. Then what happens to our world? To our economy? To humanity?

What will happen to the truth when robots edit all the news? Media companies are already using AI to help aggregate information and pre-written story lines.

The brightest of our technology leaders are hinting at the need for some regulation in order to prevent a world order where machines are smarter than most any person making people irrelevant. Without intervention, greed will rule and enterprise will choose computers over creatures every time. Gates is less concerned than Musk, but he acknowledges we can't blindly follow robots toward the horizon without stepping off the edge of tomorrow.

Of course, this can only happen if we continue to support a lifestyle that relies on "self-service" or what I call "working for nothing." I've been warning for years that we're killing jobs by pumping our own gas, checking out and bagging our own groceries and booking our own flights and accommodations and then schlepping the luggage.

How many times have you had to cycle through phone prompts again and again and repeat information so the computer "operator" can learn? Then, don't you eventually have to recite it again when the human customer rep picks up the line? You're doing someone's job and paying for it with time you can't get back.

Tools are supposed to make life easier, not create more work. How many times have you typed your unique information into a Website or app in order to electronically perform functions that someone used to perform for you? Think about it. For example, you pay a $30 deposit for an I-Pass or E-ZPass and then go online to register your account. This allows you the convenience of a quicker stop at the tollroads and a discount. But you're paying them for the privilege of doing the state's paperwork. Prediction: once states require everyone to buy an electronic pass, the toll master will take away the discount. It's basically what happened to self-serve gas -- there is no full serve, just full serve prices.

I've handed an airline clerk $120 bucks for baggage fees, after accessing my own boarding pass, only to be ordered to carry my luggage over to the loading area. That's quite a fee for the "honor" of working as a baggage handler.

Every time we put up with an inconvenience or a failing technology all in the name of "convenience" of self service, we're actually making it easier for the tech industry to create a society where real workers and real service become obsolete.

Self service should bring you and me a discount, a lower cost for the services that we deliver to ourselves. But I haven't seen the price of gas, flights, baggage fees, or most anything else decline. However, my available time continues to dwindle as I do my own banking, booking, and auto pays. I check e-mail, snail mail, texts from a variety of people I pay. I have a lengthy online survey to complete for a new doctor I'll be seeing. It used to be a physician or nurse asked me questions and filled out charts. Now I do that work and pay enormous fees for services. I've even bought my own health insurance at without the help of a human. And Blue Cross Blue Shield keeps raising my premiums, deductibles and copays.

Artificial intelligence is feeding on our genuine thoughtlessness and sheep-like mentality as we follow the herd into oblivion.

I'm not interested in preventing progress -- I just don't want to work for free as I help build the future and train the mechanical worker who will take my granddaughter's job. Working for nothing creates an artificial economic benefit to new technology, reducing its downside. Maybe we should all play dumb and begin to plead technological disability, requesting those we pay do the work. After all, we can't possibly be as smart as their machines.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Gratefully unaware

The guy finished his workout at the gym and grabbed a handful of free mini Tootsie Roll candies from the bucket at the front desk. As I zipped up my jacket, I laughed and said to the manager, "He's a slim guy; he can get away with that."

Resisting the sweets, I briskly walked toward the door and caught up with the guy munching the candies. "You're lucky to be slim; you can eat those things and not pay for it," I said.

He nodded and replied, "It's a great burst of energy after a workout."

"I'll bet you've always been slim," I guessed.

"Yeah, I'm blessed to have good genes from my parents and good health," he revealed. "Have a blessed evening."

A few minutes earlier I was wrapping up my workout on the exercise bike when a buff young guy with a Navy tank top walked by. "Gonna watch the Navy-Notre Dame game tomorrow?" I asked.

"Probably, but I'm really a soccer fan," he replied.

"My older brother went to the Naval Academy a long time ago," I shared. "He served 30 years after graduating."

That sparked our brief conversation, which revealed the young sailor's name was Nick, and he'd served five years in the U.S. Navy as an electrician's mate. Upon discharge, Nick finished his Bachelor's degree and then earned a Master's in the Humanities. Now Nick's an assistant paralegal with a Chicago law firm and in the Navy Reserves. Soon he'll be headed to Belgium for a month of service with NATO troops.

"At twenty, I had to write my will," he shared. "When you enlist, they make you list all your beneficiaries."

Coincidentally, my best friend has a son named Nick and this summer he reported for the U.S. Army after graduating college. He's hoping to serve in the special forces. His parents are praying for his health and safety. They're proud of him but genuinely concerned about his eventual deployment. This week, his father will travel from Dallas to Detroit for Thanksgiving to visit Nick's elderly grandmother who recently fell and seriously broke her arm.

My older brother, John, will also be traveling to Detroit from Baltimore for the holiday to visit our 89-year-old mother, who used to worry and pray for my big brother's protection all those years when he captained ships at sea.

Thanksgiving will bring many families and friends together to celebrate annual traditions, overeat, maybe watch some football and hopefully say a few prayers of thanks.

But true gratitude is a daily awareness of our vulnerability and an understanding that no one owes us the next beat of our hearts. But we owe a debt of humility and gratitude for the food on our tables, the peace of mind and protection we enjoy in our homes, the breath in our lungs and the sight to read and write what we choose.

There is a quiet rhythm to life that most of us take for granted, obliviously moving from moment to hour, encounter to conversation, thought to day dream, and desire to satisfaction. The seemingly random events align to fulfill needs and sometimes even delight us. Never failing what we are promised. Which is nothing more than the present. Yet, many of us who have been seriously ill, injured or damaged fail to remember to say thank you for our healing, our recovery, our resurrection.

What blessings are you most grateful for today?

Wishing you and yours a happy and heartfelt Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Your hairdresser knows

The first few hairs floated to the scrubbed floor, as I watched the first haircut of the week at my local barbershop.  Two other barbers stood at attention behind their chairs waiting for clients. As I hung up my coat, my guy was still setting up his tools after his weekend break. I grabbed a folding chair anticipating his invitation to take my perch.

In that brief moment, a thought of the divine came to mind. Jesus said God cares for us so much, he counts the hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7). And now we know DNA testing can identify our unique biological fingerprints with a single strand from each of our bodies.

The people who trim and razor us are earthly keepers of a heavenly inventory. For most of us, we have an unusually intimate relationship with our stylists. Few get that close to us for so long and so often. We certainly can't chat with our dentists or hygienists while their hands are in our mouths. Thank goodness we don't need to see them once a month.

My Chicago barber hails from my home state, Michigan, so we have a lot in common, although his beard is much fuller, longer and darker than mine. This month, after our usual small talk, we moved to the subject of health. Ironically, he shared that his dear wife has no hair. She suffers from alopecia, a disease where the immune system attacks hair follicles. My best friend fights this disease, too. He shaves his head and jokes about it, explaining his baldness with a rhetorical question, "Have you seen the price of shampoo?"

But for a woman to live without hair, takes real courage. Sometimes, my barber joins his wife at alopecia support groups and with his dark mane, he's the hairiest person in the room.

However, he's not the Samson in their relationship. She's the strong one, also fighting psoriasis; these autoimmune disorders travel in twos and threes like birds of a feather. You might think wigs would be the simple solution, but I know my wife, Ellen, hated hers when she shaved her head during chemotherapy for breast cancer. Hot and unnatural, fake hair was not her style. I know a guy who shaves his head to support his wife during her battle with breast cancer. She's been fighting it for years.

My barber's wife enjoys the freedom of her hairless head; her curse is a convenience, saving her time in the mirror and sparing curlers and products.

All the while, the craftsman scissored and clipped, hot lathered and shaved my head, neck and face as he spoke candidly about his personal life and asked me questions to show he cared about mine.

As I walked home with time to ponder our conversation, I considered the Scripture depicting our Creator taking time to inventory our hairs. Perhaps a little like the way a parent kisses the fuzzy head of a beloved baby.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Your Jesus Year

Our older son, Alex, turned 33 the day before Halloween 2017. We told him, "This is your Jesus year."

Christian tradition says Jesus was 33 when he died, nailed to a Roman cross, following three years of ministry and miracles. In his short earthly life, Jesus transformed the world. No single person has impacted the course of history more than the itinerant Jewish rabbi from Nazareth. As the New Testament scholar, Amy-Jill Levine says, "Jesus raised the bar on Judaism." Dr. Levine is Jewish. I've heard her explain that Jesus' Gospel was about changing our hearts and minds to eliminate even the thought of something sinful, something selfish, unloving, unmerciful and unforgiving.

So what do I mean by "your Jesus year?" It's a little bit like a "gap year" where high school graduates take a year off after graduation to work or volunteer in order to experience the world. It often includes travel abroad designed to broaden perspectives and prepare young students for university.

Now, imagine the news headlines in a culture where 33-year-olds everywhere took a year to focus on goodness, and healing and making a positive impact on the global community.

What do you think that would look like?

Immediately after Halloween, Christmas holiday ads spark the season of buying and bacchanalia. Many also think about charitable gift giving. Churches, temples and mosques host homeless for meals and beg for gently used clothing for organizations that serve the needy. Bell ringers on street corners collect coins and cash to help ensure a better Christmas morning for low-income families. I know a jeweler who gives 20% off coupons to customers who donate coats to a local church's closet for the homeless.

Unfortunately, after Hanukkah, Christmas and the New Year pass, most of us drop this beautiful tradition. It's back to racing through life and walking past those in need like so many fire hydrants. We just don't see them. Nor do we notice the good because we're preoccupied with the rancor between countries, political parties, communities and even family members.

What if Jesus had chosen to continue his anonymous life as a quiet carpenter from an obscure town? What if he never dedicated his time to performing remarkable public service -- as he washed feet, healed hearts and delivered the good news to the poor?

It's never too late to have a Jesus year, even if 33 is a distant milestone in your rear view mirror.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Beggars and Saints Welcome

Today, Halloween rivals Christmas as a holiday for decorating and outdoes Easter in candy-coating and significance in most families. But there's something very different about the fall masquerade and sugary celebration. Like these other two religious memorials, it's rooted in giving and honoring exceptional love and goodness although most folks are now oblivious to its charitable meaning.

The term "All Hallows Eve" comes from very old Middle English and is deeply Catholic and ancient in origin. In the Church calendar, October 31 is the eve of the feast of All Saints Day or a special day for all holy men and women. November 2 is All Souls Day, when the faithful remember the lives of the rest of those who have died. Mexicans call it Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead.

In jolly old England, the needy knocked on doors and begged for "soul cakes" in exchange for a promise to pray for the dead of the household. I remember as a kid sometimes yelling "Help the poor!" as we approached porches with our pillowcases and sacks full of apples, penny candy, coins and small bags of potato chips. Little did I know that real disadvantaged people once fed genuine hunger with their Halloween take of shortbread and currants.

The Brits, Scots and Irish immigrants imported this custom to the U.S. and it was observed in Maryland more than Protestant states. Over time, the alchemy of America's melting pot blended Halloween with Native American and other traditions to create the modern version of Halloween that emphasizes most every superhero and unusual personality except the likes of saints, martyrs and the poor.

Butterfingers, Kit Kats and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups have long replaced the carefully baked spiritual pastries that once satisfied the hungry. But on no other American holiday are people so truly generous. Think about it: strangers beg at the doors of millions of Americans who joyfully give them treats. Long gone are the devilish tricks that led to waxy windows and rotten eggs smashed on cars. The giving is not in response to that threat of nasty pranks, but to participate in the simple bliss of watching children laugh and make believe. People even hand out goodies to kids from the other side of the tracks, when vans full of youngsters pull up to safer, more affluent neighborhoods. Sure, some doors close and porch lights go out, but most homeowners don't mind giving away hundreds of pieces of candy in exchange for nothing. No feasting and gift swapping like Christmas. No brunch, flowers and egg hunts like Easter. Just joyful giving to children we often don't know.

T'here's something about this custom that celebrates the essence of Christianity. Our simple generosity to strangers commemorates the true origin of this holiday, even though we've long forgotten that it really represents a memorial for our good dead.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Redeeming our national conscience

Corruption is the offspring of power and the absence of love.

This week's news oozed with the stench of alleged sexual harassment and rape, enabled by bystanders who stood silent, unable to muster moral courage in the face of scandal. From Hollywood to Washington D.C., from movie moguls to presidents, our nation has watched as woman after woman stepped forward and said, "Me, too." They described a corporate and institutional culture where men at the top felt entitled to  treat women, both employees and colleagues, as toys for their prurient pleasure. 

No segment of our society is immune from the abuse of authority, not the Church; not academia; not athletics; not the media. Even children are unsafe. 

Searching for some peace on Friday evening, I witnessed a rare and candid conversation between a clergyman and an A-list actor and producer. The live event called (re)Encounter Chicago is an annual spiritual revival for young adults hosted by the Archdiocese of Chicago. The archbishop, Cardinal Blase Cupich, sat center stage across from a humble Mark Wahlberg. They shared their personal lives in front of a couple thousand faithful at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion, who chose to listen to a praise band, rapper and a litany of Christian testimony from genuinely inspiring speakers. 

Both men come from Catholic homes with nine children. And that's where the similarity ends. Haling from Omaha, Nebraska, Cupich compared his discernment and religious vocation to "the way people fall in love and get married." He deftly interviewed Wahlberg, who grew up in Dorchester, a Boston, Massachusetts, neighborhood, where drugs and trouble seduced him after his parents divorced when he was only 11. At (re)Encounter, he confessed to dropping out of high school and falling deep into crime and violence before adulthood. But when the cell door slammed behind him, Wahlberg had already reached out to his parish priest. "It was the first time I was sober in years."

Today, the married father of four, challenged by his wily 14-year-old daughter, starts each day with about 25 minutes of prayer and spiritual reading. "I won't do anything else until I've prayed." The secret to his energy is a 7:30 p.m. bedtime and a mandatory eight hours of sleep, followed by an intense workout and phone calls to his mom and east coast business interests before the family rises for the day. Wahlberg built a chapel in his home and sends his kids to Catholic school. Although he attends Mass every Sunday and  is involved in his Beverly Hills, California parish, he doesn't force his children to go with him every week. Wahlberg hopes his example of prayerful, hard work will pay off and they will one day want what he has.

In his forties, Wahlberg went back to high school to earn his diploma and he prides himself on working hard at everything he does, doing his best and leaving the rest to God. 

"We are blessed to have a fresh start every day," Wahlberg explained. 

If we could only encourage more of our leaders and celebrities to step forward and share the truth about their corruption and redemption it would help us remember we have not permanently lost our way. It might also inspire some of us to step up and blow the whistle on those who are exploiting the vulnerable.

It takes courage to conquer evil, including that in our own hearts. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Physician, heal yourself

What makes a doctor good?

ABC-TV is betting that it's the image and likeness of the lead character in its smash hit series, "The Good Doctor." So far, the network seems to have nailed America's ideal of the perfect physician, boasting 33 million viewers for the drama series in this young fall season.

British actor, Freddie Highmore, channels the endearing childlike personality of the fictional surgical resident, Shaun Murphy. The youthful character is autistic and has Savant syndrome. His messianic healing talents include the uncanny ability to quickly diagnosis diseases and conditions as he visualizes human anatomy in the virtual imaging chamber of his mind. The 3D, anatomical graphics dazzle viewers as Dr. Murphy remarkably perceives the seriousness of rare circumstances and seems to detect what is undetectable to even the most savvy and experienced surgeons at his hospital.

Murphy's "disabilities" make him eccentric and give the young doctor a laser-like obsession with human anatomy and its miraculous inner workings. But there is more to Dr. Murphy's allure than his abnormal brilliance. Like a child he is disarmingly genuine. He tells the truth, sometimes brutally to both colleagues and patients. He's humbly saintlike, free of ego and even the need to claim credit for his insights and ingenuity.

Dr. Murphy tells his boss, "You're arrogant. Do you think that makes you a better surgeon?"

He reveals a terminal diagnosis in front of an unsuspecting patient, "She has a sarcoma." Later he identifies the unorthodox strategy to remove one of her healthy kidneys, clearing a path for surgeons to cut out the tumor around her heart. The unconventional idea saves the woman's life.

The same good doctor tells a hypochondriac, "People can die of a heart attack at any time."

There is something beautiful and innocent about this character. So honest and yet so caring. Personally, he reminds me of Jesus.

Dr. Murphy  is in tune with his patients and their concerns and not afraid to tell them the truth, with compassion.

More than anything, I think that's what makes a good doctor.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Modest Proposal 2.0 or Bulletproof 360

Acknowledgement: This blogger recognizes Irish satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and his original "A Modest Proposal" as the inspiration for what follows here. Those unfamiliar with this particular Swift work can read it at this link:

For your consideration, here is my modern Modest Proposal 2.0:

Now that the echoes of rapid, automatic gunfire and mass murder have quieted in Las Vegas, Nevada, the political Gatling guns in Washington, D.C. and across America are blasting away at the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the right to bear arms. This inevitable debate will lead to much hand-wringing, threats and promises to fight, until the gun controllers rhetorically pry firearms from the "cold, dead hands" of the most ardent gun advocates. Nothing real will likely happen to secure safety.

It must be admitted that gun ownership and its use is as fundamental to the American system of governance and freedom as the right to resist taxation and the right to speak our minds, criticize the state, assemble to protest against it in public or in private or shoot a handgun in the air on Independence Day. Essentially, without the Second Amendment and the unlimited and inalienable rights it guarantees to bear weapons, all other rights are at risk. That's why the founders wrote:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

The key words here are "well regulated Militia." Certainly Steven Paddock, the prolific shooter from Mesquite, Nevada was a one-man Militia. With more than 40 weapons in his personal cache and the ability to adapt them for automatic fire, he proved his ability to inflict significant harm on any conventional threat by injuring nearly 500 and killing 58 at a country western concert. He was within his legal right to own all those weapons. Since Militias are necessary for our country's safety and freedom, Paddock obviously had the need to drill and regulate his performance with his arsenal. What would our police, sheriffs, National Guard, Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines, Coast Guard and special forces do without the assistance of these Militias and more than 300 million guns in the hands of private citizens? There are many other one-person Militia's like Paddock. A review of the latest data reveals 3% of the U.S. population owns approximately 50% of all the civilian-owned U.S. weapons. In other words, there are millions of other Steven Paddocks in America who own from eight to 140 weapons. With that many triggers, it would be very hard to track if one goes missing or is stolen. That must be the reason only nine states and the District of Columbia require firearm owners to report a lost or stolen weapon. We can't expect these well regulated Militias to know where every weapon is at all times. It's estimated a half-million guns are stolen annually. They often end up in the hands of criminals.

So, what's the answer? Should we risk infringing on such fundamental protection of liberty and allow any restriction on gun ownership, when we already have so many laws codified at the federal, state, county and municipal levels?

I propose a more modest approach. One that protects lives without savaging a cornerstone of freedom like our sacred Second Amendment. We simply need to bulletproof our nation, and for that matter, the world. Bulletproof 360 is the answer. Before you scoff, consider these questions. Would you drive a car without your safety belt and airbags? Would you own a home without a working smoke detector? Would you go for a walk in the rain without an umbrella? Ultimately, even the AIDS epidemic was fought with condoms and safe sex as opposed to abstinence or the suggestion that anyone should alter a lifestyle.

The answer to rising gun deaths and the increasingly frequent mass shootings by Militias and murders by criminals is a bulletproof environment. For example: bulletproof glass on our homes to resist drive-by shootings; bulletproof car windows and windshields to protect against road ragers; bulletproof baby buggies, bonnets, diapers and bibs to defend infants, especially those who are shot by unsuspecting toddlers wielding weapons. Think of the innocent lives that would be spared by a global commitment to bulletproofing, when more than 7,000 U.S. children annually experience gunshot wounds and more than 1,200 die from them. It's the third leading cause of child mortality in America.

What's surprising is that law enforcement is not recommending this technology for citizens when they use it themselves. There is a long history of body armor protection. Knights in steel suits rode into battle against sword and lance and even musket ball. A recent PBS Nova episode demonstrated that century's old metal suits were impervious to a musket shot from close range. American troops fighting in the Middle East wear body armor, when it's available. Modern materials like Kevlar are much more light weight and can be created in a variety of designer colors. Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and Valentino would undoubtedly leap at the opportunity to work this protective weave into stunning apparel for the red carpet -- everything from dresses and suits, to brassieres, underwear, socks, shoes and boots, ties, hats and other accessories. Camo is an obvious option.
Imagine the boom in optometry of bulletproof eye wear and sunglasses.

Industry would scramble to develop newer and more effective materials to compete for consumer dollars, generating an unbridled economic boom in American design and textile industries. Virtually every consumer industry would be affected since we've clearly established the need for a bulletproof 360 society. With drones and the ability for snipers to perch at elevations, we'll need to consider bulletproof roofing; bulletproof skylights and walls; bulletproof vehicle side panels for cars, trucks, buses and trains. Besides the financial benefits and job creation, just consider how helpful it will be for Militias to be able to fire upon passing traffic without as much concern of injury or death.  Why not shoot at the driver who cut you off, when you're relatively confident he's taking responsibility for his safety and rocking his bulletproof apparel?

Just think, if only Trayvon Marin had worn a bulletproof hoodie, George Zimmerman could have stood his ground without consequence. In September 2017, Chicago Archbishop, Cardinal Blase Cupich declared all Chicago Catholic parishes and schools gun free. If the global church had adopted a bulletproof doctrine long ago, with vestments, altars and pulpits that deflect gunfire, the late Salvadoran social activist, the beatified Archbishop Oscar Romero, might be alive today. The same might be true for Dylan Roof's victims at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Extending this concept to universities and schools could have prevented the senseless deaths at, Virginia Tech, Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary and the Amish school at West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. If every child, teacher, principal and school staffer is covered in a bulletproof uniform or active wear, the likelihood of casualties declines. Plus, the apparel obviates the need for gun free zones at schools or even metal detectors.

Insurance rates for casinos, concerts venues and arenas are likely to skyrocket after the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino Militia mishap in Las Vegas. Expect insurers to demand tighter security at every entertainment and sporting event. Bulletproof 360 would shift the security paradigm from public protection to self protection. It might significantly mitigate a business's responsibility to protect customers who are injured on its premises, by shifting the responsibility for safety to the visitor.

Now picture country western fans wearing bulletproof cowboy hats, chaps and vests to concerts while gang bangers don bulletproof jackets and boxer shorts at rap events to protect their behinds from low-riding belt lines. Sports fans could wear bulletproof team merchandise including logo-emblazoned helmets. These could be very useful in Major League Baseball where hard hit balls bash spectators. I'll bet the parents of a certain little New York girl, a two-year-old toddler, wish they had put a bulletproof helmet and mask on her before they took her to a Yankees game in September.

All these bulletproof technologies and enhancements would be exportable, perhaps reducing our trade imbalance. And government would save resources, too. With bulletproof garb, cars and architecture, we could dramatically reduce the cost of defending presidents and other politicians with secret service.

Ultimately, that's what it's all about: personal responsibility and protection. The Second Amendment guarantees us the right to bear any arms to protect ourselves, especially from our own government. And if you can't take the responsibility to protect yourself from a stray bullet, you can't expect Militias to take additional precautions while regulating themselves. Bulletproof 360 is the answer to so many social, safety and economic problems.

The only catch is, how do we protect ourselves from those who choose to own an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) or a tank? It's their right, right?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Pray for peace

The Asian man knelt at the back of the Catholic church vestibule resting his bottom on his heels. His expression was serious, almost anguished. He watched the Mass through the glass doors and I could see tears well in his eyes. His posture reminded me of Buddhist monks who self-immolated during the Vietnam War. They were protesting discrimination against Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government, that showed Catholics preferential treatment.

That horrifying practice of setting oneself on fire is on my mind because of PBS' unforgettable documentary, "The Vietnam War." Directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have created a riveting series on the history of that war, beginning with the French occupation of Indochina in 1850's.

Sadly, most people won't see this series because of the fragmentation of TV audiences. Gone are the days when an epic story like Alex Haley's "Roots" (1977) could dominate viewer attention for weeks because of the dominance of three over-the-air networks. But this Vietnam documentary is not to be missed. Burns and Novick  devoted 10 years to filming and creating this masterpiece. They do an exceptional job of sharing genuine responsibility among the six U.S. presidents who presided over American involvement in the battle between the North and South Vietnamese.

But it's the stories of individuals who survived in the trenches that make this program so compelling. Sure, there are soldiers from all sides, but also, civilian men and women who endured the savage warfare at close range. This is the aspect of battles that is most often overlooked. Veterans share their war stories but rarely do most of us talk to those who lived in the communities where bombs fell and atrocities scarred.

My parents were survivors of the Holocaust and the Nazi invasion of Poland in World War II. The collateral damage of battle includes the souls and serenity of those who are surrounded by chaos, foreign soldiers barging into their homes, stealing food and resources, and threatening lives over the smallest suspicion or hesitation to obey. Imagine a submachine gun jammed under your jaw. Or pretend you're a child running to hide in the woods while the Gestapo fires upon you. How would that affect your life and for how long?

Whether it's napalm bombs, Agent Orange or mindless killing of civilians, Burns and Novick capture the insanity of the Vietnam War through so many personal accounts of unbelievable but truly searing tragedies. Stories that should make us drop to your knees, shed a tear and pray for peace.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sticks and stones

I discovered a surprisingly compelling and relevant story recently while channel surfing and landing in the jaws of ABC-TV's "Shark Tank." A 16-year-old Asian-American girl was pitching a groundbreaking technology to the cast of carnivorous investors. Astonishingly, she had created a smartphone or desktop app that could pump the brakes on social media bullies. She demonstrated how the software could identify hurtful and aggressive language and pause a post before it went live. It would caution the author of the nasty comment and urge them to reconsider.

Of course, the user had the freedom to go forward with his or her verbal assault, but the software was designed to make people think about the consequences before launching wordy weapons.

This software targets parents of preteens and teens as well as schools that are tasked to take steps to prevent bullying. However, after the flurry of stories about the Twitter assaults in the news this past week, I'm wondering if this parenting technology would be helpful in taming the egos of many adults, including pro athletes and those in high office.

I remember when e-mail first became available and people cautioned about sending certain types of messages that were better delivered on the phone or in person. Communications is a dance with certain social graces, not to mention non-verbal cues that help to frame our emotions and provide context to the words. And in this era of FaceTime and Go-To-Meeting capabilities, a real eyeball-to-eyeball visit to a client, friend or family member remains the ultimate way to share, especially for delicate matters. 

For many, social media has become anything but social and provides an easy way for boys and girls to hide behind fences while they sling rocks and arrows. We seem to have forgotten that kindergarten chant, "sticks and stones can break my bones but names with never hurt me." 

Maybe because we have lost our way on many larger matters. 

One of the most memorable and important events I've encountered in my sixty years was a meeting between an assassin and his target. It took place in an Italian prison, when then Pope John Paul II visited the man who had shot him. One bullet had hit his elbow, the other his stomach brining the pontiff to the brink of death. Yet, after he recovered, he found the courage to forgive Mehmet Ali Agca and tell him so personally. The two became friends; the pope stayed in touch with his assailant and even requested a pardon for him. While in prison, the shooter converted to Christianity.

His conversion isn't surprising with the example St. John Paul set. Regardless of your faith or disbelief, consider this wisdom from the late pontiff: "Humanity should question itself, once more, about the absurd and always unfair phenomenon of war, on whose stage of death and pain only remains standing the negotiating table that should have prevented it."

Whether it's a war of words between family members, political groups in a country or leaders volleying salvos across the globe amidst nuclear tensions, we have to ask ourselves: "Why don't we just sit down face-to-face and hash this out?"

I think President, Donald J. Trump, and NBA star, Stephen Curry, both missed that point this week. And it's surprising, because jocks typically honor a code that keeps their disagreements private and in the locker room. And  during his campaign, Mr. Trump proved he's very familiar with locker room talk. If only they had agreed to meet to share a sandwich and discuss their differences. And if someone refuses your invitation, always leave the door open. By the way, rumor has it  that North Korea's Kim Jung-un loves steak and sushi.

No matter how much you revile the other side, each opportunity to engage an adversary in conversation is a chance to better understand and be understood. For example, since 1995, a grass roots movement comprised of Israeli and Palestinian families had fought for peace between the two nations, Uniquely, every one of the members of this non-violent, non-governmental organization had lost a close family member in the bloodshed. The two sides were equally represented. 

By 2012, the Parents Circle - Families Forum (PCFF) had recruited more than 600 Israeli and Palestinian families to build a reconciliation infrastructure and participate in a continuous dialogue. They believed this was essential to achieve any lasting future negotiated peace. Members shared their grief, resentment and emotions in face-to-face meetings where they had come to identify with the suffering of the other side – and discover the futility of perpetual conflict.
PCFF had worked diligently to avoid using bereavement as an excuse for retribution. Palestinian and Israeli families jointly conducted dialogues in schools and reached 25,000 students annually. Their goal: influence the public and political decision makers to choose peace. Their message: empathy and understanding.
In the Holy Land, the healing power of forgiveness had already restored serenity, while bombs and bullets continued to kill.
Here in the United States, protesting is undeniably an American tradition and defining principle. However, whether you're taking a knee during the national anthem, boycotting a business for practices you abhor or standing up against another injustice, we must always be open to dialogue.  Non-violent demonstration enabled Gandhi to liberate India and the likes of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to elevate the civil rights movement to the mountain top
In Jesus' day, tax collectors were considered exploiters and scum while Samaritans were reviled as heretics. Yet, Jesus conversed and dined with them both. In fact, he made a tax collector named Matthew his disciple and he spent two days with a Samaritan woman and her people. It was at least the equivalent of a Hatfield sharing a jug and an apple pie with a McCoy. 
But if you're not swayed by the Bible, don't forget this 20th century event of biblical proportions. the Cuban missile crisis. That atomic stare down between U.S. President, John F. Kennedy, and Nikita Khrushchev, of the Soviet Union, finally ended when back channel negotiations achieved a breakthrough and both sides gave something to secure peace. 

"Why don't we just sit down face-to-face and hash this out?" Adults shouldn't need an app for that.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Do something

The world seems to be in more turmoil than usual lately. Perhaps it's the parade of hurricanes skipping across the Atlantic and monsoons flooding Asia while wild fires scorch America's west.  Then there's North Korea's rocket man amping up nuclear tensions while protesters shake up American cities and towns.

Do you ever feel hopeless when you follow the news? That's when it's time to do something.

As we walked home from church today through a shady neighborhood on Chicago's northwest side, my wife, Ellen, spotted two twenty-something women cleaning up the sidewalk across the street. Not particularly unusual, except they were working in front of two different homes. A little young to be home owners and too old to be doing the lawn for mom or dad. When we turned the corner and passed a young man carrying jugs of orange juice, we discovered another pair of young women picking up litter.

"Big party last night?" Ellen asked.

"Nope!" the friendly, bespeckled blonde replied. "We're from St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Logan Square and this is our service Sunday."

What followed was a chat about our churches and the captivating sermon we just experienced. The topic was forgiveness, and our pastor shared the story of a woman who confessed her anguish and inability to forgive the brother who had sexually abused her. At the time he heard her confession, he was a very young priest. "You must forgive him," Fr. Sam advised. "I'm not telling you to accept what he did to you, but you have to forgive him. The longer you hold onto this the more pain it will cause you."

A few months later the woman returned to see Fr. Sam again and she thanked him for his tough love in the confessional. It had helped her.

It's hard to imagine what the young victim felt but she told our pastor, "Whenever I see him, I want to kill him." She was cursed by her brother's evil, yet it was up to her to make the changes that would allow her to grow and improve her life. Her world was eviscerated but she had to summon the courage to begin the healing. All things are possible with God.

As we endure the news each day, it's essential that we remember two things:

1. There is always so much to be grateful for.

2. Change is not a spectator sport -- whether it's required in your neighborhood, the global community or our hearts.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lost and found

With most schools back in full swing and the big kids away at college, there's a common cry across the land. I hear anguish like this from friends with teenagers and adult children:

"My son doesn't talk to me. I mean really talk to me. I get yes and no answers."

Or "My daughter keeps her life close to her vest. She won't share anything. And they text each other so I don't even hear their voices."

Although at least half of parenting is loving and nurturing, the rest is about letting go. Allowing our children to grow up may be the hardest part. On the other hand, it is the most rewarding. For inspiration on that, Google Kahlil Gibran's poem "On Children" from his book, "The Prophet."

But sometimes, the distance young people put between themselves and their parents lasts a while ... sometimes for decades. How does one cope with the silent treatment or that feeling that the relationship is an uncomfortable, required formality?

With six decades in my rearview mirror, I've discovered that for me the best answers are always in the Bible. How did Jesus manage to offer perspective on virtually every human condition in just three years of public ministry? But he did. Consider the powerful parable of the prodigal son, captured on canvas by Rembrandt. If you know the story, it rings so true to real life it can be frightening and yet it mirrors the mind of the almighty.

For the unfamiliar or those who have forgotten the details, a man has two sons. The younger, an ungrateful upstart, asks his father for his share of his inheritance. Dad obliges and the kid hits the road. In short order, he squanders his legacy on wine and women and ends up slopping hogs to make ends meet. As he salivates at the corn husks that the pigs are gobbling up, he realizes if he goes back home and begs his pop, maybe the old man will have pity and hire him as a servant. At least he won't starve.

So, his homecoming is driven by his stomach, not a contrite heart. Dad sees him coming at a distance and is moved. He runs out to welcome and embrace his son, before the prodigal can say a thing. As soon as the ne'er-do-well gushes his apology, the senior dude orders his servants to scrub him up, dress him in the finest duds with accessories, and slaughter the fattened calf for a party.

Coming in from a tough day in the fields, big brother is stunned at the surprise bash for his punk sibling. Incredulous and seething, he barks at his father, wondering why he would reward this no-good, whoring ingrate and yet never celebrate the loyalty and service of his oldest heir.

And the joyful father responds, "My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found." (Luke 15:31-32)

That's how the famous parable ends. But we can find our better angels by chasing the devil from the details. The family obviously knew about the young son's misadventures. Mom and dad must have ached wondering about his whereabouts and his health. Yet, they patiently waited for contact. They didn't run after him and search. They were on the lookout for any glimmer of hope in reconnecting with their boy. Their doors and arms were wide open ... regardless of what other family members or neighbors had to say.

So much extraordinary advice for any one in any relationship ... but especially for those of us who are pining for contact with a dear one lost on the streets, estranged by an argument or separated by the inability to love unconditionally.

Any parent who feels the cold shoulder of someone they carried for nine months, diapered and rocked to sleep, or raised to adulthood also has a sense of what God feels like when we fail to call home.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Casting stones and removing timber

Pastor Joel Olsteen had a rough week -- from a PR standpoint.

I don't know how he felt personally. He says he didn't pay much attention to the gale of criticism on Twitter and elsewhere. Maybe he ascribes to St. Teresa of Calcutta's (Mother Teresa's) philosophy on pride and ego: "If we were humble, nothing would change us -- neither praise nor discouragement. If someone would criticize us, we would not feel discouraged. If someone would praise us, we also would not feel proud."

This week, social media posters pelted Olsteen, the Christian televangelist and Pastor of Lakewood Church, in Houston, Texas. They were appalled at his apparent lack of empathy for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. The Lakewood congregation occupies the former Summit Arena/Compaq Center and previous home of the NBA's Houston Rockets.

Why did Olsteen and his follower have "no room in the inn" to welcome local Harvey survivors?

Olsteen said his facility was water logged and unsafe to accommodate refugees. He also said many leaders in his congregation were storm victims, some stranded in their own homes.

Those bashing the wealthy megachurch pastor, his massive congregation and sprawling Christian complex were most likely themselves not Christians. Or at least they were unfamiliar with the teachings of Jesus.

The Jewish Messiah had a lot to say about judging, criticizing and other oral afflictions. Here are a few of his choicest Gospel moments:

When a righteous crowd prepared to pepper an adulteress with rocks in order to kill her for her sexual sin, Jesus said, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." (John 8:7) The crowd quickly dispersed.

Then there was the time the Nazarene carpenter made this analogy: "How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first, then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:4-5)

Ouch! In other words, you better be sinless BEFORE you consider advising someone else how to avoid temptation. The truth is Jesus' message is profoundly truthful and powerful. Consider this: how much credibility does a fat guy have telling a drinker, gambler or workaholic to step away from his or her excess.

Likewise, unless I've been donating until it hurts to support storm victims I have no right to comment on someone else's charity or lack of it. And don't forget, devastating floods submerged the lives of millions across the globe this week, killing more than 1,200 in Asia and Africa. There's someone in my family or community that's under water with debt, or illness, family strife or addiction. I have so much work to do and so many people to help. How could a practicing Christian find time to boast or heckle?

Simply put, Jesus said, "Stop judging that you may not be judged." (Matthew 7:1) Great advice especially for Christians trying to actually walk the talk. He also told us donate to those in need invisibly -- in secret with no fanfare -- telling no one of our philanthropy. (Matthew 6:3-4)

Maybe Olsteen was helping displaced Houstonians in quiet, secretive ways. Only God knows his heart. Who am I to judge? For the record, I am a very judgmental person who is learning to bite my tongue off rather than offer condemnation. It's a struggle but worth it. A heavy lift but the true way to peace.

Christianity is damn hard to live up to. St. Mother Teresa once made this observation: "Gandhi felt fascinated at knowing Christ. He met Christians and felt let down."

I often have to ask myself -- if Jesus met me right now, would he say, "You hypocrite"?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Think, but not too much.

What is the solution to homelessness? If you had a year to think about it, could you solve it? Five years? A lifetime?

Lately, I've been thinking about homelessness a lot because we've recently moved to Chicago. There are homeless people everywhere. I lived in Detroit for sixty years and encountered my share of beggars there. But we didn't walk the streets much in "the motor city." It was all about cars and driving. You'd most likely meet a homeless person as you slowed to stop on a freeway exit ramp -- or after you parked outside a downtown stadium. 

On the other hand, in "the windy city," we walk all the time. So we're frequently face to face with those living on the streets. It's terribly sad to see someone shaking from disease, hunger or withdrawal. You can't possibly help everyone, but it hurts to stroll past neighbors like they are so many fire hydrants or street signs. 

Recently, my wife, Ellen, and I were pushing our two-year-old granddaughter, Quinn, in a stroller when a homeless guy approached us. "Can you please give me some money so I can eat," he begged. Instantly, many thoughts raced through my mind. "What do we do with Quinn to keep her safe? Is this guy going to except our excuse and let us pass? I hope he doesn't do something bad."

"I'll help you!" said a young woman who suddenly stepped up to the beggar.

"Really?" he cried with surprise.

"Sure," she said with a smile. "I've got to buy some groceries; come inside and I'll get you something to eat."

And off they went into the nearby store. The young man would not go hungry tonight. 

I felt badly that I hadn't thought to make him the same offer. I hadn't even noticed we were passing the grocery. I was too busy thinking the worst of this stranger. 
Instead of judging him, I should have thought about the simplest way to help him solve his problem. There was an immediately available, safe solution inside the grocery. Or I could have allowed Ellen to push the stroller while I stopped to talk to the man. Or I might have promised to return in ten minutes after taking our granddaughter home. 

But I didn't. I was busy thinking too hard about the wrong things. 

St. Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa, has some amazing advice from the trenches in the war on poverty. In her book, "A Simple Path," the late Nobel laureate encourages us to take action when we see problems and not think too hard about grand solutions. Or wait for the government, social workers or other programs to solve big issues.  

"In the West we have a tendency to be profit-oriented, where everything is measured according to results,"she said in "A Simple Path."

"In the East ... I find that people are more content to just be. The success of love is in the loving -- it is not in the result of loving."

Her call is for love in action. For love through service. Seeing needs of individuals and doing something about them. Not judging. Not measuring the causes of social problems and weighing the  results of solutions. It's not about counting heads; what counts is the amount of compassion in our hearts. 

The woman who volunteered to help our beggar friend took the simple path. She was focused on solving this man's hunger. Of course, even if she bought him a whole cart of groceries, he'd still be homeless and very likely hungry again in a few days. But for now, just for a moment, his stomach would be full. His immediate need solved. And he would know that there is genuine goodness in this world.  A total stranger cared about him and gave from her heart, expecting nothing in return. 

As for the woman who stepped up to help him, she also gave herself the chance to meet a neighbor and see his humanity and dignity. She was free of the burdens of class and status, liberated from the fears of hyper security. Free to really love without thinking too hard about it. 

Therein may lie the solution to all our problems.