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.