Flashing Red Lights

October 12th, 2022

When the paramedics come to our house, they always arrive with an ambulance and a fire truck. I guess it’s just their standard practice. They showed up at around 9:00 PM. The police had already been in our home for almost half an hour. The fire truck was parked in front of the yard, its red lights flashing in the darkness.

Asher stared through the window at the fire truck. I was holding him in my arms. I told him softly,

“Look at the red lights. Can you see them? I’m sure that everyone else in the neighborhood can.”

Asher had been sleeping, but not anymore. Chaos is not restful.

I had been talking with one of the police officers about Asher’s mom. She was the reason for his visit. It was strange. A couple hours earlier, things had been fine. The young woman had bathed and dressed Asher for bed. She was going to put him to sleep for the night. I had a bottle warmed up for him.

Then she started drinking. How long did it take for everything to unravel? Five minutes? Thirty minutes? Things got scary. Very scary.

I texted Karin to come home from her guild meeting after the young woman got drunk. Karin just wanted her to sleep it off, while we cared for Asher. That didn’t happen. It never happens like that. These episodes never end quietly. They also reach a feverish pitch of craziness, and then I call 9-1-1.

The young woman agreed with a cop to go to the hospital. She left with only her bathrobe, her phone and charger, and a head exploding with alcohol. Asher watched her walk out the door. Then he cried.

Asher is not quite two years old, but he understood. At some level, Asher knew that bad things were happening, and he cried. Karin told him,

“It’s okay. Mama is sick. She’s going to the hospital.”

That was all true, but it didn’t make Asher feel any better. It didn’t make anyone feel any better.

The boy cried. He cried, and he cried, and he cried.

We eventually put him into his stroller to take a walk. It was dark and wet outside. The wind blew drizzle on us. The houses in the cul-de-sac were ablaze with Halloween decorations. Asher enjoyed looking at them. Somehow, the scene was appropriate in a macabre way. After all, we were living in a horror movie, for real. Asher slowly settled down. We cried again when we got home.

Karin and I both laid down with him in bed. He swung like a pendulum between us. He cuddled with Karin, and then with me. Then he hugged Karin again. Then he held on to me. He wanted warmth and safety, and we provided what we could, but we didn’t feel safe either. It’s hard to give what you don’t have.

Asher gradually grew quiet. His breathing became calm and regular. His small fingers unclutched and released their grip on my hand. The boy slept.

He and Karin are still asleep. I woke up from the lightning in the sky and the sound of the distant thunder.

It’s not over yet. There is still a storm coming.

Baptism

October 10th, 2022

Asher is going to be baptized. It has taken a while for us to get to this point. Typically, a child is baptized within a few weeks of their birth. Our grandson, Asher, is nearly two years old. We needed to make sure that his mama was on board with the decision. She is. The prospective godparents are willing and able. Now, we just have to wait for the Catholic Church to approve of the baptism. The Church is a creaky organization where the wheels turn slowly. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

Years ago, when our own kids were infants, it was customary for them to be baptized. It was a family tradition and an integral part of Catholic culture. There was never a question if the child should be baptized. The main questions involved when and where it would happen.

Karin and I took time and care when choosing godparents for our kids. The Church wants the godparents to help raise the child as Catholic. There is an emphasis on teaching the youngster to believe the tenets of the faith. The people we chose as godparents made an effort to keep their charges on the straight and narrow path. However, now that thirty years have gone by, it’s hard to describe any of our children as traditional Catholics. I think all three of them believe in something, but I’m not sure what exactly.

Honestly, there are parts of the theology of baptism that I struggle to accept. For instance, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church it says:

“1250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.”

It’s the “original sin” thing that bothers me. I’ve never been able to see the justice in the concept that every human comes into the world as damaged goods because our primeval ancestors screwed up mightily. It fascinates me that the Church relies heavily on our biblical traditions, but there is absolutely no notion of original sin in Judaism. In fact, two online sources say this:

“There is no concept of “original sin” in the entirety of the Tanakh. We are all capable of choosing to sin or not sin and we are all capable of returning to God and have our sins forgiven.” – Derech HaTorah

“Jews do not believe in the doctrine of original sin. This is a Christian belief based on Paul’s statement, “Therefore just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The doctrine was fully developed by the church father, Augustine of Hippo (354-430).” – Gerald Sigal

Original sin is a purely Christian idea, and not necessarily a good one. The idea that we are all born sinful and depraved makes no sense to me. However, this concept has persisted throughout Christian history from Paul to Augustine to Calvin to Cotton Mather and to us. It is obvious that humans are frail and often in error, but that is not the same as believing that we are scum. Asher often gets on my nerves, but it never occurs to me to think of him as being sinful. He’s just a little kid, and basically, we are all just little kids.

Another thing… the Church says that baptism is necessary for salvation. See the passage below from the Catechism:

“1257 The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.”

Okay, the implication is that the vast majority of the world’s population, those who are not baptized, will not be saved. I probably won’t mention this to my friends who are Buddhist, Jewish, or Muslim. I especially won’t talk about it with the ones who plan on coming to Asher’s baptism.

However, the Catechism also says:

“1260 “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.” 63 Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”

A good lawyer would be able to get almost anyone into heaven with that statement. So, I’m not too worried about my non-Christian buddies making the cut.

Why have this baptism at all?

In Asher’s case, there is compelling reason for it. Asher does not have a father in his life. Stefan, our youngest son, has agreed to be Asher’s godfather. Stefan has further agreed to serve as Asher’s mentor and male role model. Stefan may not be the most devout Catholic, but Asher needs his uncle to guide him through his life. Asher needs Stefan on his journey to find God. I suspect that Stefan will need Asher too.

Stefan is willing to be Asher’s godfather, not because he likes the Church, but because he loves Asher dearly. Stefan wants to be there for Asher, now and in the future. Stefan is willing to make that commitment in public for all to see and hear.

That is enough reason to have the baptism.

 

One-sided Goodbye

October 8th, 2022

I had a friend.

We knew each other for quite a while. We worked at the same place for many years. We knew each other’s families. We shared our struggles and concerns. We used to meet regularly, or at least talk on the phone. I liked the man, and I admired his musical talent. He was, and probably still is, an excellent blues guitarist. I cared about him, and I treasured friendship.

About a year and a half ago, shortly after Karin and I started caring for our little grandson, Asher, the relationship I had with my friend ended. It ended abruptly. He hung up on me during a phone conversation, and then I never heard from him again. He wouldn’t return my calls or answer text messages. For all purposes, he ceased to exist as part of my life.

I tried to regain contact with him, but I never received any response. I have no idea what I did to alienate him. I don’t know why he severed the connection. Very possibly, I offended him, and perhaps he is right to ignore me now. But I don’t know that. I don’t know what happened.

Two days ago, I visited another friend, a fellow writer, and we talked and drank beer at his house for a couple hours. On my way home, I drove in the vicinity of the home of my former friend, the one who cut me off. I impulsively drove to his house and rang his doorbell.

His daughter came to the door. She must be in high school now. She looked at me and said,

“My dad is at work now.”

I told her, “Okay. Tell him that I love him.”

She gave me a funny look and asked, “Are you okay?”

I gave her an honest answer, “No, I’m not okay. Just tell him I love him anyway.”

I turned and walked away. I drove home.

I have not heard anything back from my old friend. I don’t expect to hear anything. It was pointless to go to his house. I’m not sure what I wanted there, maybe a reason, maybe some kind of closure.

I guess I just wanted to tell him, or tell somebody, anybody, that I still cared about him.

I needed to do that.

Unexpected Generosity

October 8th, 2022

“If you have money, consider that perhaps the only reason that God allowed it to fall into your hands was in order that you might find joy and perfection by throwing it away.” – Thomas Merton, from his book Seeds of Contemplation

Every now and then, I go online to look at the entries to the record of our checking account. Karin and I have a joint account, and I scanned the list of recent purchases. One of them puzzled me. It was for Great Clips, the place where I usually get a trim. The debit was for $60.00. I couldn’t figure out how the haircut could have cost that much. I have hardly any hair left to cut. I happened to have a rumpled copy of the receipt. After I read it, I thought to myself,

“Oops.”

Later that day, Karin and I were taking our grandson, Asher, for a walk. As we we wandered down the street, I told Karin,

“Hey, I screwed up when I went for my haircut.”

Karin gave me a puzzled look, and asked me,

“How?”

“I made a mistake when I gave the stylist a tip. I typed one too many zeroes.”

Karin laughed, and asked me,

“So, how much did you give her?”

“I wanted to give her $4.00. I gave her $40.00 instead.”

“How much was the haircut?”

“$20.00.”

She rolled her eyes, “So, you gave her twice what the haircut cost?”

“Uh, yeah.”

We walked a bit further. Karin became thoughtful.

She said, “Maybe the woman needed the money. Maybe she was struggling to pay some bills, and you happened to give her what she needed.”

“That could be.”

Sometimes throwing away money is okay.

Strangers in the Night

October 6th, 2022

I don’t sleep well. It probably has to do with the fact that I worked third shift for over twenty years. I’ve been retired for over six years, but my sleep cycle is still a mess. As one of my former coworkers told me,

“You’ve been ruined.”

That’s true. I wake up in the middle of the night, every night. Since I am caring fulltime for a toddler, it doesn’t matter that much, because little Asher wakes up dark and early too. I can’t remember the last time that I slept the whole night through. I don’t see it ever happening again.

I worked the graveyard shift at a local trucking company. I was the supervisor who ran the early dock operation. For the first few hours of the night, I was often alone in the office. I was busy setting up routes and organizing hundreds of shipments. I was always sleep-deprived on the shift. I drank lots of coffee or Mountain Dew, but those beverages only helped for a short period of time. After a while, caffeine is no longer a stimulant. It is just a diuretic. I used the bathroom quite often during my time at work.

The dockworkers on my shift started coming in through the door around 5:00 AM. Prior to that, I was on my own. Once in a while, I would get a visitor. The people who showed up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning were generally a little odd. It just goes with the territory.

My company shipped freight all over the country, however we didn’t always have our own drivers haul the trailers. There were several cross-country lanes that simply were not economically viable if we had to pay the wages that own employees normally received. So, the corporation hired owner-operators or drivers from other companies who would haul the freight for less money. These carriers would pick a full load from our facility in Milwaukee for a specific destination, like Los Angeles, or Atlanta, or Dallas. They showed whenever they felt like it, and often it was in the wee hours of the night.

We had all sorts of people come into the building. One night, a driver walked slowly into the office, and waddled up to where I was working. He had a scraggly beard and obviously had not showered in recent memory. The guy wore a long mu mu and flip flops. He probably tipped the scales at about three hundred pounds. He was out of breath from the short walk from his tractor to my section. The man leaned heavily on the counter. He said,

“I’m (gasp) here (cough) for a load (hack) going to LA (wheeze).”

Note: this was before COVID.

I gave him the paperwork for his trailer. I had already decided that if he keeled over in the office, and needed CPR, he was going to die on the floor.

On the other end of the spectrum was the Cowboy. A guy walked in one night and sidled up to the counter like he was going to order a sarsaparilla. He wore a Stetson. He had on a shirt with the little metal tips on the ends of the collar. His jeans were pressed, and the creases on them were so sharp you could shave with them. He had a belt buckle the size of a dinner plate. His highly polished boots were cockroach killers. He looked at me and drawled,

“Ah’m here to pick up a trailer. Y’all got a load going down to San Antone?”

We did.

There was one shift when I was extremely tired, and it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. I ability to focus on my work was limited. I was at the counter struggling with my planning. I was staring blankly at some paperwork. Then I glanced up.

“Sweet Jesus!”

I was looking at a guy who belonged in movie, “The Hills Have Eyes”. The guy had absolutely no hair, and his eyes were dark and protruding. The man had zero percent body fat. He spoke in a voice reminiscent of Peter Lorre,

“Sorry to startle you. Do you have a load ready for Chicago?”

I gathered my wits and replied, “Yeah. Sure. Here. Here’s the paperwork.”

He stared at me, “Do you want me to hook up the trailer, and then tell you that I am leaving?”

“No! It’s okay. Just hook up and go.”

“Do you want me to dispatch myself here in the office?”

“NO! I’ll do it! It’s fine! No problem!”

He left silently. I had to sit down for a minute.

One late night visitor was not a driver. It was around 3:00 AM on a warm summer night and I was sorting through paperwork. I heard a man’s voice in crying in the darkness, “Help me! How do I get out of here!”

I was alone in the building. I was sorely tempted to ignore that voice. Then I heard the guy yell again, and I heard him running outside. Against my better judgment, I went out to look. I didn’t see anyone, so I figured things were okay.

Then I saw him. He was a young man without a shirt, running around the building like a maniac. I walked up to him, and he stopped. He was panting hard, and he was covered with sweat. I asked him,

“Soooo, are you okay?”

He looked dazed and drunk. He replied in a panic,

“I was with my buddies at the strip club down the road. When the place closed, they left me behind. How do I get out of here? This place has a fence all around it!”

Our facility had a large chain link fence surrounding it. However, there was one big open gate. I walked him to the gate and said,

“See this?”

“Yeah.”

“Go through it.”

He did.

An hour or so later I heard him howling again in the distance. I called the cops. They asked me, “What’s your emergency?”

I gave them my name and address. Then I said,

“Uh yeah, there is some guy about half a mile from here. He has no shirt. He’s running around screaming.”

“We’ll take a look. How will we recognize him?”

“He’s running around screaming.”

The police hung up after that. I assume they found him.

I did my part.

The Nurturing Program

October 2nd, 2022

I got an award many years ago. I still have it. I found it lying at the bottom of my dresser drawer buried under a layer of old t-shirts. I guess I could hang up somewhere, maybe in the basement next to the water heater. The award is from Walker’s Point Youth and Family Center, and it was given to me for my work with the center’s Family Support and Empowerment Program (aka the Nurturing Program). I don’t remember how long I volunteered at Walker’s Point. The award was presented to me in 2010 for seventeen years of service, but I was still with the organization for several years after I got the plaque. I was involved with the Nurturing Program for a really long time.

The Nurturing Program was an odd sort of project. It was designed to educate families with troubled teenagers. The program brought several families together for meetings every week for about three months. There was always a team of four volunteer facilitators and one lead facilitator to run the program. The volunteers came from a variety of backgrounds, and the lead facilitator had some kind of social work experience. There was a curriculum for the program that, over time, changed and evolved. As facilitators, we were teachers, and we were also leaders who refereed group discussions. The program was never boring.

We used a rather loose definition for the term “family”. The people who came to us did not usually fit the traditional family structure (a dad, a mom, 2.5 kids). Back in the 90’s, we had a lesbian couple raising a teenage boy. That was pretty wild for those days. We had all different combinations of adults and children staying in the same home. We agreed that a family was simply a group of people living together and loving each other.

It was often difficult to recruit families to join the program. The families had to straddle a fine line. They had to hurting enough to want help solving their family issues, but they also needed to function well enough to show up for the meetings. We seldom got families who considered themselves to be okay. Why come to a program if everything is going smoothly? We generally played host to families that were on the ragged edge of despair. Some of them could barely keep things together. Their lives were filled with chaos and confusion, but somehow, they joined us almost every week. The family members who managed to make it through the program were people who loved each other and had not given up hope that things in their homes could be better. They were strong.

We tried to teach skills during each session. We discussed things like how to communicate without screaming and yelling (or hitting). We talked about feelings. We talked about values. We talked about building trust. We explained how to set up family rules, and then follow them. Some of the stuff seemed extremely basic, but for many people, it was all new. I learned a lot even as I was instructing the family members.

The Nurturing Program often turned off prospective participants because it sounded touchy-feely. It was really hard to get men to get involved. As facilitators, we tried to welcome and encourage families, but the program was by no means warm and fuzzy. We encouraged family members to be open and honest, and by God, they were. We provided a safe environment where parents and their teens could say what they really meant. Often, a parent would look at their child and tell them, probably for the first time, that they were really scared for their safety. A teen might tell his parent that he just wanted to be heard, nothing more than that. People got very, very real.

I was usually the only male facilitator. I was usually also the only one with a military background. The women tended to be comforting and soothing with the participants, and some folks responded well to that. I wasn’t soothing. I was always brutally honest, and sometimes that worked. Different people needed different approaches.

I got sucked into the drama. It was impossible for me to remain aloof when people were opening their hearts to me. The parents, especially, once they let down their guard, spoke frankly about their fears and their pain. They wanted to do the right thing by their kids, and it was all turning to shit. Some of the adults I wanted to hug. Some I wanted to slap.

The kids are the ones who got to me. Yeah, there were some punks in the program, the kinds of young people that can really push your buttons. There were kids who acted tough, probably because they never had an adult to love and protect them. There were boys and girls in the groups who had grown up far too soon. However, there were innocents there too. I remember one boy, barely an adolescent, who seldom spoke in a group. I asked him about his father. He gave me a blank stare and said,

“I have never met my dad. He doesn’t want to know me.”

I wept.

I often wondered if we did any good. Can you change a life in twelve sessions? Probably not. I got to the point where I decided that I was just planting seeds. Maybe I couldn’t fix a particular family, but I could perhaps leave an idea with them. Maybe the next generation would have it just a bit easier. All the years I worked with these suffering souls, I did it on faith. Only once did I ever get any feedback from a family. It was years after I had worked with them, and they thanked me for the help. That kept me going.

In my own family, we made it through the teenage years relatively intact. After that, all hell broke loose. One son went to war and stabbed a man to death in Iraq. Another of my children went to prison. The third got into some bad stuff, but I never really found what it was. I made it clear to him that I don’t ever need to know.

I am convinced that all those years of working with families that were struggling with horrendous problems prepared me, at least a little, to deal with my own crises. The fact is that these families, with all their dysfunction, also had some hard-earned wisdom. They taught me how to survive and overcome.

I don’t need the plaque. I never did. I got what I needed.

Come to Mary’s House

September 22nd, 2022

On the back cover of Shawn Chapman’s new book, it says, Come to Mary’s House invites you to imagine that you are with the Blessed Mother”.

So, who exactly is the author this book inviting?

In her introduction, Chapman asks the reader if they “long for Mary”. That implies that the reader knows something about the Blessed Virgin. Or maybe not. Sometimes people long for someone that they do not yet know. Falling in love can be like that. However, most likely the person paging through Come to Mary’s House will be a devout Catholic. I would say “devout Christian”, but there are Christians who find the Catholic devotion for Mary to be at best puzzling, or at worst blasphemous.

I remember years ago talking with Mike, a co-worker of mine, about Mary. Mike was a Black man and a rock-solid Baptist. He asked me,

“Frank, what is with you Catholics and Mary? Why do you pray to Mary? She’s just a woman. Why don’t you pray to God?”

Some questions are difficult to answer. I replied,

“Mike, sometimes, when you are in bad trouble, you want to talk to Mama before you talk to your dad.”

Mike shook his head and laughed.

Mary is our mama. Of course, she is more than that. Below I quote from a book called Civilisation by Kenneth Clark, an art historian. He comments on the relationship between Catholics and Mary during the Reformation. He says:

“The stabilizing, comprehensive religions of the world, the religions which penetrate to every part of a man’s being – in Egypt, India, or China – gave the female principle of creation at least as much importance as the male, and wouldn’t have taken seriously a philosophy that failed to include them both. These were all what H.G. Wells called communities of obedience. The aggressive, nomadic societies – what he called communities of will – Israel, Islam, the Protestant North, conceived their gods as male. It’s a curious fact that the all-male religions have produced no religious imagery -in most cases have positively forbidden it. The great religious art of the world is deeply involved with the female principle. Of course, the ordinary Catholic who prayed to the Virgin was not conscious of any of this, nor was he or she interested in the really baffling theological problems presented by the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. He simply knew that the heretics wanted to deprive him of that sweet, compassionate, approachable being who would intercede for him, as his mother might have with a hard master.”

What I think Clark is saying is that Mary embodies the feminine aspect of the Divine. Catholicism, as a religion and as a culture, could not exist without Mary. Even Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, remarked about the incredible importance of Mary to the faith. Mary gives Catholicism balance. To a certain extent, our worldview is based on our understanding of the Blessed Virgin.

Mary was just a woman back in the 1st century, but she has since acquired a cosmic significance. She is a lot of things. With regards to Mary, we Catholics want it all. She is both virgin and mother. She is a simultaneously a Jewish peasant woman and the theotokos, the God-bearer. Mary is the teenager who is unwed and pregnant. She is also the first and best disciple of Christ. Mary’s presence satisfies deep-seated human needs.

When bishops sent men to convert the pagan peoples of Europe a thousand years ago, these priests found that the locals had places sacred to their earth goddesses. Almost overnight, these locations became Marian shrines. Those missionaries were savvy fellows.

There is a temptation to treat Mary like a goddess. We often refer to Mary as the “Queen of Heaven”. To the casual observer, that term sounds a lot like a reference to a deity. In some ways she almost seems like one.

When I first read the title for the sixteenth chapter in Chapman’s book, it made me think of Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. The title of the chapter is “Hear with Mary the Cries of the World”. In the Buddhist world, Kwan Yin does that too. She is the incarnation of love and mercy in the East. Kwan Yin (aka Avalokiteshvara) seems to do for Buddhists and Daoists what Mary does for us.

Why have I written all this? I want to make it clear that any author who has the temerity to write a book about Mary has their work cut out for them. Shawn Chapman skillfully juggles the various aspects of Mary’s being. Chapman ensures that the reader knows that Mary was a real woman living in a real world, experiencing most of what the rest of humanity experiences. She also makes it clear that Mary is different from us. She has the ability to make this unique individual relatable. That is impressive.

Chapman has several chapters based on her life experiences and her encounters with Mary. These are chapters 26 through 30 (“Incognito”, “Do You Want to Live?”, “Mary Elaborates”, Living Reparation”, and “Annunciation House”. I find these chapters to be the strongest in the book. The author comes across as being utterly authentic, and intensely moving.

Chapman describes Mary as being “sneaky”, in that Mary quietly and subtly enters a person’s life. The author is pretty sneaky herself. At no point in the book does she attempt a hard sell. I have often been turned off by religious books that push the message too hard. Chapman invites the reader to meditate with her, but she does no more than that. She leaves it for the reader to decide if they want to enter Mary’s house.

Shawn Chapman uses a guided visualization to facilitate meditation. That doesn’t work for me. I am a student of Zen, a practice where visualization is not generally used. In Zen a person sits silently and tries to empty their mind. The goal is to have a mind that is “clear – clear like space”, and then to be able to see things as they really are, without judging or condemning. If I can have a clear mind, then I can recognize suffering and act with compassion. Using Chapman’s technique, the practitioner eventually sees the world through Mary’s eyes. I expect the results are the same with both methods.

There are parts of Chapman’s book that don’t resonate with me, not yet anyway. Perhaps they will in the future. The Blessed Mother is a being who can never be fully understood. She is an ocean of grace. Come to Mary’s House is also an ocean. No matter how many times a reader dips into it, they will never get to the bottom.

Running Wild in the Pews

September 20th, 2022

As usual, Karin and I took our little grandson, Asher, to Mass with us on Sunday morning. Asher is not quite two-years-old, and he is generally a happy boy (note: his name means “happy” in Hebrew, so it fits him well). He was frisky on Sunday, and he wanted to go places. He was in no mood to sit quietly in the pew. We used various means of gentle persuasion to get Asher to settle down, but he was having none of it. Eventually, we grew weary of the battle.

We let Asher run amok. He dashed from the platform where the altar stands down the aisle to the wall with the stain glass windows. Then he ran full bore back up the aisle to the steps leading to the altar. He grinned, turned on his heels, and roared down the aisle again between the pews. He did this over and over and over again. At first, Karin and I tried to follow him. However, Asher has unlimited energy, and we don’t. We both sat back into the pew and watched our little guy careen through the church. No one seemed to mind. In fact, most people smiled at Asher as he raced past them.

It made me think of what it was like for me in church decades ago. Those were different days. As my father often said, “Children are meant to be seen and not heard!” That was the prevailing attitude back then. Kids were supposed to shut up and sit still. The apparent reverence of the children during the liturgy was considered to be a direct reflection of adult parenting skills. Woe to child whose parents got a dirty look from some old woman trying to pray her rosary without distraction! Hell had no fury like my dad if he thought I had embarrassed him at church. I am surprised that I am still a Catholic.

I wasn’t much better with our kids in church. The fact is that, for many years in many congregations, children have not been welcome. I don’t think it’s always been a religious thing. I think that it’s mostly cultural. Karin and I have often been to Catholic liturgies in Latino churches. During those services, people are relaxed, and the kids wander free. It is the same at The Congregation of the Great Spirit, a Native American Catholic parish in Milwaukee. The indigenous children there are active and often participating. I had the impression that the kids wanted to be there. Our kids really didn’t want to be at Mass, and none of them attend church as adults.

I think that, back in the day, when there were large Catholic families (I had six younger brothers), kids were considered to be a nuisance by their many of elders. The old folks never considered that fifty years later there might not be any children at Mass. Our parish took a survey of the congregation and determined (surprise!) that most people at the church are over sixty. Now the kids are sorely missed, and it might be too late.

Our parish is planning to evangelize young families with children to get them back into the Church. I am tempted to say, “Good luck with that.”

Where will the parish find these young families? How will the parents be convinced to participate in a church that told them that they were superfluous when they were little? Our children’s generation is lost to the Catholic Church, or to any other church for that matter. They are the “nones”, and it will be hard to get them to return.

At the end of Mass on Sunday, when Asher was finally running out of steam, Father Michael came to our pew and sat down next to where Asher was standing. Father Michael looked intently at Asher and Asher looked back at him.

Father Michael smiled and said, “Asher, I like you. You know why? You make me laugh.”

Asher grinned at the priest.

Father Michael asked Asher, “Do you want to come up to the altar with me and help dismiss everybody?”

Asher took Father’s hand and walked with him up to the altar.

Father Michael held Asher in his arms and together they gave the final blessing.

I think Asher might come to Mass again.

More Guns

September 20th, 2022

My son, Hans, lives in Bryan, Texas. Bryan is the sister city of College Station, the home of Texas A&M. The Bryan/College Station area is building up rapidly, but it is still semi-rural. The local economy is almost totally based on the university. Everything in BCS revolves around the Aggies.

Many college towns tend to be progressive communities. I know that the city of Madison, here in Wisconsin, is very liberal. Austin, Texas, is also a leftwing outpost. College Station is an exception to the rule. BCS is a deeply conservative town. A person might see a rare political sign for Beto O’Rourke, but generally this small urban area is solidly Republican. Often campaign signs in and around Bryan/College Station make a point of saying that the candidate for office is not only a Republican, but a conservative Republican.

Anyway, a couple days ago, Hans called me. He does that on a regular basis. He started off by saying,

“Hey, I don’t know if I told you this already, but I nearly got truck-jacked three weeks ago.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I used my fob to unlock my pickup from inside the house, and these two SUVs pulled up. They blocked the entrance to my driveway. I ran out of the house as fast as I could, and I got my .357 Magnum out of the truck’s glove compartment.”

Hans paused and said, “The guys from the SUVs looked at me, and my gun. One of them said, ‘F— this, he’s got a gun’, and they drove off. They all had their faces covered. I didn’t have enough rounds to shoot all of them, but they didn’t know that.”

Hans went on, “I need to get me a gun for concealed carry. All my guns are too big. I could carry a pistol on my hip, but if you aren’t paying attention, it’s really easy for somebody to grab it from you. I’m thinking of getting a small 9mm. You know, something I can strap on whenever I leave the house.”

I should have been shocked by our conversation, but I wasn’t. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised at all.

Hans is a combat vet. He fought in Iraq. Hans has a lot of guns (that’s standard for a Texas resident). He has a weapon in nearly every room of his apartment. Now, some guys wanted to carjack him in front of his home. He sees that the answer to this problem is to buy yet another gun. Maybe that is the answer from him, but it is a little too Wild West for my tastes.

Hans complained that crime was increasing in Bryan. Hans lives in a working-class neighborhood where most everyone lives in a duplex. It’s not a bad place to live, and the area is very close to a gated community with high end homes. Hans attributes the rise in crime to the people coming into the region from the big cities. He lamented, “We’re becoming Houston.”

Years ago, Hans used to live in the country. He shared an old farmhouse with an elderly man near the small town of Calvert, Texas. They had issues with crime there too. So, it’s not just an urban problem. I wrote about an incident Hans had with a rural thief on my blog (“The Crackhead and the Lawnmower”, June 30th, 2017).

I live in the Milwaukee metro region, and violent crime here has been increasing. Lots of shootings, many of them in parts of town that never before had any killings. I don’t understand why this is happening. I don’t plan on getting a gun. I don’t see that making me and my family any safer.

I have often read articles by conservative writers accusing liberal mayors of being responsible for rising crime rates in urban areas. That may be true to a certain extent. However, it doesn’t explain why somebody is willing steal my son’s pickup from him in Bryan. Bryan doesn’t have any liberal politicians that I am aware of. There must be other factors involved.

I just don’t know what they are.

A Commitment

September 14th, 2022

It rained hard on Sunday. We got over seven inches in twenty-four hours. It was already pouring out when we drove to the church in the morning. When we got there, I pulled up in front of the entrance to help Karin get Asher out of his booster seat. We rushed to get the little boy into the narthex. Then I parked the RAV in the lot and got soaked as I walked back to the church.

Karin and I were at the church early. We had a meeting with a lady from the parish who wanted to talk about the Milwaukee Archdiocese’s new capital campaign. This campaign is apparently a big deal. The title for this massive fundraiser is “Love One Another”. That phrase is scriptural. It is from the Gospel of John. Somehow, this command from Jesus is being translated by the archdiocese to mean “give money to the Church”. I find that irritating.

Actually, there is a lot about this capital campaign that I find irritating. By sheer coincidence, the archdiocese is cranking up this campaign just after the funeral of the former archbishop, Rembert Weakland. Archbishop Weakland admitted in 2008 that he had shredded copies of sex abuse documents and moved sexually abusive priests from church to church without warning the members of those communities. Following his coverup of the diocese’s sex abuse scandal, the Milwaukee Archdiocese was inundated with lawsuits and eventually had to file for bankruptcy. The archdiocese has spent the last decade desperately trying keep what it could of its money and property. Now, the current archbishop wants to invest in the future, and put the past behind us.

Yeah, maybe. We have short memories, but not that short.

My wife and I contribute money to archdiocese every year. We give as much as we can. We also give money to our parish church and to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. We give to the Catholic Workers. We give to these organizations because we trust the people involved with them. We know that our donations will be used properly. Especially with St. Vincent de Paul and the Catholic Workers, we know that the money will go to the poor, to those who suffer and struggle.

Do I trust the people at the archdiocese? Kinda. I suspect that most of the money from this campaign will go to worthy causes, however the archdiocese’s financial track record is spotty. I prefer to spend my money with people I know.

A couple weeks ago, during Mass, our priest showed a video from the archbishop to kick off the capital campaign. The video was slick and professional. That alone turned me off. The sales pitch was smooth and subtle. It reminded me of when I was shopping for a used car. The Church needs money to survive. I get that. Does it really need to function like a corporation? Does Christianity have to be a business?

The woman at our parish is a good person, active in the parish and strong in her faith. She was talking to us because she really wants to do what’s best for the Church and the greater community. She had a folder for us that was packed with brochures and papers that explained how the campaign worked. The archdiocese’s plans were long on generalities and short on specifics. There were a lot of buzzwords in the presentation, like “stewardship” and “time, talent, and treasure”. The lady emphasized that 60% of the funds raised would come back to our parish, St Rita’s Church. That was apparently a selling point.

I thought to myself, “I could write a check to St. Rita’s and the parish would get 100% of the money.”

Oh well, whatever.

I reluctantly listened to the entire spiel. The woman wrapped up by asking us to make a pledge to be paid over a five-year period. That was the deal breaker.

When she was done, I asked her, “What do you actually know about us?”

I sat back, holding Asher in my arms, and waited for her response. There was an awkward silence. I could hear the raindrops beating on the window.

She said that she knew we were a very family-oriented couple. She didn’t have much to say after that. The fact was that she did not know us well. Why should she? She only saw us occasionally at Mass, and we had seldom spoken. We didn’t know much about her either.

While holding Asher, I explained to her that, as of June 8th of this year, Karin and I became Asher’s legal guardians. The court made us solely responsible for his health and wellbeing. The State of Wisconsin was giving us a small stipend to help raise the lad, but that did not even come close to covering our expenses. The fact was that we already tapping into our 401K to take care of Asher. We had already made a pledge. We had committed to caring for our grandson for the next sixteen years. I made it clear that almost all of our time, talent, and treasure were being used to raise this little boy. Our spendable income was already being spent.

The lady looked shocked.

I apologized to her for being rude.

She replied, “Oh no! You weren’t rude at all! I just didn’t know any of this!”

She wanted to know if we wanted to complete a portion of the form indicating that we could not contribute at this time.

I shook my head. I said, “No, I am not filling out that form. I have no idea what we will be able to do tomorrow, much less during the next five years.”

She asked, “Do you want to take the folder and read about the campaign?”

I shook my head again. “That will change nothing.”

“Well, could you at least take a copy of the prayer for the campaign and pray it each day?”

Karin and I nodded.

We got up to leave. Mass was going to begin soon.

She smiled and asked us sweetly, “How about hugs?”

We all hugged.

She looked at me and said, “You know, when you read from the Scriptures during the service, it is very inspirational. I love to hear you speak.”

I just looked back at her and said, “Thank you.”

I understand that we need to love each other. We all play a role on building the City of God. Karin and I are doing what we can by loving one little boy. That’s the best we can do. That is our commitment.