Monday, May 29, 2017

THE GIFTS OF WAR




DEDICATION

This short story was initially published in 1999 as a "christmas story."  With so much in the news today about our veterans, I decided to post the story here this Memorial Day (2017).  


     This story is dedicated to my uncle, Sargent Herman Zerrell.  Sargent Zerrell, born in 1895, fought in France during World War I.  He remained in France for a year after the war was over, taking care of German prisoners of war.
  Interestingly enough, Herman’s father emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1871, so Herman was very much a German, himself.  I wonder if he ever thought about that.
As with so many soldiers when they return, he was both loved and despised and not without good reason.  He was definitely a wounded soldier.  He was, in fact, never the same after the war.  In a sense, our Uncle Herman never did return from the war. Miraculously, he lived to the ripe old age of 88. He died in 1983.

This story was inspired by many different people and many different events and experiences.  But the creation of this story literally happened after listening to John William’s sound track from Saving Private Ryan for several days in a row.  I thought it was important to acknowledge how the Spirit works.
I also want to thank all of the combat veterans who have so graciously and so bravely trusted me and allowed me into their experiences. 

The Gifts Of War


  I never thought that life would or could be the same again.
  I never thought I would wake up in a bed again.
  I never thought I wouldn’t be crawling on my stomach somewhere or ducking behind trees.
  When I was out there crawling around, trying to stay alive, I had frequent flashbacks.  They were surprisingly pleasant and sometimes I would laugh out loud.  Sarge would growl at me, “What the hell you laughing at, Soldier?”
  There I was, eleven years old, playing war in the field behind my buddy, Rollin’s house, throwing those dirt clod grenades and carrying my wooden rifle handcrafted by Rollin himself–certainly not an M1, but a damn good rifle.
  As the days turned into months, Sarge would bark, “this ain’t the field behind your house, Soldier....those aren’t dirt clods they’re throwing, Soldier.”
  Gruff as he was, I liked Sarge.  He was like a big ol’ dog who was always there.  I don’t think I would have survived without him.
  Sometimes, I was just grateful that I hadn’t joined the Navy.  As terrible as my experience was on the ground, I could not imagine diving into that cold water and swimming through the midnight of the sea perhaps to my death.  If I was going to die, I wanted to have my feet touching the ground!
  I remember one night seeing God coming for me, and I just asked him not to send me to hell for all the awful things I had already done.
  The smell of another man’s blood never awoke in me any desire to be a vampire.  I kept watching to see if anyone else was throwing up, and finally, I just didn’t care anymore if they did or didn’t.  I just let myself throw up when I had to.  Sarge warned me that I was letting myself get into a bad habit.  I never argued with him, but I wanted so badly to tell him that I felt free after I threw up.
  It reminded me of when I ran track back in high school.  At the end of a race, I would almost always run off to the side and puke.  I thought I was a little strange, and of course, I developed a reputation.  I always wondered if it had anything to do with my winning so many races.  No one wanted to be too close to me at the finish line!  But I learned later that it is not that uncommon.  I guess it’s a combination of the nerves and then pushing the body to the limit.  On the battle field, it was pushing my soul and my FGT to the limit.  I pronounce it FiGiT. FiGiT–it’s my own original acronym. Made it up myself.  It stands for fucking gag threshold!  I learned to smell a lot of things out there, and Sarge told me that I would get used to it all, but I never did.
  Oh yes, I was telling you about the time I saw God coming for me. I am hardly religious, you know, but the truth is it happened more than once.  In fact, I saw God many many many times.  It was the strangest apparition, and you are only the second person I have ever told.        The scary part was seeing him come and take my buddies on either side of me or the soldiers fifty yards ahead of me.  Sometimes God would look at me, and I thought for sure he was telling me that I was next.
  You want to know what God looked like.  I couldn’t begin to describe what I saw.  I know there was a fuzzy, hazy kind of light.  The presence was powerful.  I remember one night seeing a hundred soldiers come out of the sky. This ghostly unit swept down on our division like a cloud.  As always, the incoming mortar shells were absolutely deafening.  I thought for sure it was my time.  It was almost as if God was snatching us up before the enemy had a chance to snuff out the life from our burning souls.
  For some fucking strange reason that I will never comprehend, I was never snatched up nor my life snuffed out.  I always came out alive.  I never lost a limb, not even a finger.  I never broke a bone.  Of course, my heart didn’t survive.  It was slaughtered.  Slaughtered.  It’s out there somewhere.  Well, I do remember clearly.  It stopped beating the first time I killed another man.  For the life of me, I could not pull the trigger--till I heard his bullet ricochet off my helmet.  I never did learn to kill another human being.  I just started pulling that trigger for shear survival.  It’s frightening to me that I may have killed some of my own buddies.  And then there are so many other...Well, I still can’t talk about those.  It is incomprehensible what we think we have to do and what we actually do to survive.  When you come across a farm house and see little ones with limbs blown off and you’re not sure how that happened.  You try to convince yourself that it was the enemy who killed their own in friendly fire or you just feel bad that these innocent civilians somehow got caught in the crossfire.  You see I can’t even talk about them as real people, only as innocent civilians.  And when I asked Sarge about it, he just looked at me with those piercing court-martialing eyes and told me “You will never talk about this shit, soldier!  Do you understand, Soldier?”
  It has taken me a long time to even begin to entertain the notion that any of us could ever be forgiven.  Of course no one ever talks about that part of it, and we convince ourselves that it was for a good cause.  I guess otherwise we would all go crazy.  But at my age, I figure maybe it is okay to take the chance to look at the possibility that it was not a good cause, and I am no better than any of those guys on death row.
  For a long time, I felt almost nothing.  It’s a cliche, I know, but it’s true.  I was numb.  I was always shocked when I caught a glimpse of myself in store windows–the deformity of my body and the way I walked.  When I looked into a mirror, I couldn’t help but notice the vigilance and the fear in my eyes.  I knew that something wasn’t quite right, but I also began to think that it was all just normal.
  I am seventy-nine years old.  I am going to celebrate my eightieth birthday in the year 2000.  I have only recently begun to look back on all of this because until three years ago, the war was always today for me. 
  I’ve been sober now for three years.  Not a drop for three years.  The alcohol is just like the war itself. I have somehow survived it without serious damage to my body.  I do not know how I managed that.  I should be dead from alcohol. I should be dead from combat. And for that matter, any of my friends or loved ones, my wife especially, could have easily and justifiably killed me over these last fifty some years.  I guess I need to be totally honest.  My ex wife.
  During all those years, I was not able to have a good argument with anyone because every argument would turn into a bitter battle.  Even worse, I never allowed anyone in my circle of friends or loved ones to make or forget a mistake.  I detested that bumper sticker, “Shit Happens.”  In my book, shit is caused by carelessness or stupidity, and I always made sure you knew which one you were.  I am not totally sure why I took your mistakes so personally, but pretty soon, no one wanted to talk to me about anything.  I have been one hell of a son of a bitch to live with.  I have lost many a friend and many a loved one in that war that I fight every day, inside me and around me. Looking back, I realize that during the war, I fought for my life.  Since the war ended in 1945, I have been fighting for my freedom.
  I think what kills me the most is not holding my children and my grandchildren when they were little.  I could not do that.  I knew that, and they knew that.  Sometimes I was even afraid that I would snap their necks if they didn’t stop crying.  I am trying now to coax my great grandchildren to sit on my lap, but they are afraid of me too.  
  I look around at other men in my Thursday night group.  It is amazing to me how many of us fight the same battles and have the same battle scars even though I am the only one in the group right now that has actually experienced combat.  The rest are just guys, other men, some young, some middle-aged.  I am the oldest.
  The other night, one young man, about thirty, shared how his father used to “whoop” him with a belt.  He told his story with almost no emotion.  I was not sure why I was crying when he told his story.  My father never “whooped” me, and I never “whooped” my children.  I was afraid to.
  Then it hit me.  His experience of his father’s “whoopings” reminded me of dodging those incoming mortar shells.  As he described his father’s bellowing voice, “This hurts me more than you, Kenny,” it was like the terrible howling of those shells, and I just knew at any moment I was going to get hit.
  When I looked into the mirror this morning, I wondered if it’s not too late to stand up straight or walk without a limp.  Somewhere deep below the crust, I have always suspected and now I know that this pain in my bones is not arthritis.
  I do not want to bore anyone or make people sick with the gory details.  I guess in some way, I am trying to spare you from experiencing the war for yourself.  I only remember one other time that I thought I could share something of my experience.  It was some kind of Veterans Day celebration at one of the local colleges, and someone talked me into manning a VFW booth.  I remember there were about ten people standing around, and I began telling them what the weather was like on the battle field in November, and before I knew it, I was telling them about this one particular patrol.
  It was a very cold night, and we were crawling across a wide field toward a large mansion which we had been told housed an enemy command post.  Between us and the mansion were several small sheds.  As we approached the first shed, we could hear someone moving around inside, and I volunteered to check it out.   As I ran toward what I thought was the entrance, I was expecting to see machine gun fire, but there was none.  As I entered, I could barely make out a shadowy figure hunched in the corner.  In what little German I knew, I shouted several times words that I was told meant Surrender!  When it was apparent that my opponent was not surrendering and instead was moving toward me like a defensive tackle, I lunged with my bayonet.  I had never heard the sound of a pig being run through before or afterwards, and I ran out of that shed as fast as I could and returned to my unit.  They all laughed at me, except for Sarge.
  “I didn’t hear any of you dickless men laughing when I asked for a volunteer,” Sarge scowled.
  As I was telling my story, I noticed a crowd gathering and it became very very quiet as I spoke.  I began to feel some relief telling my story, and I kind of liked being the center of all of these people’s attention.  But then when it came time for lunch, it seemed anyway, that no one wanted to sit with me or even near me. And finally, thank God, a student came up and told me how much he enjoyed listening to me talk. He told me I should host a program for the college radio station, and then he started asking me questions about the medals I was wearing.      
  I do not know what would have happened had we not gone to war in 1941.  Those are questions far beyond me.  What I do know is that  I have never been the same, and I am beginning to resent the price I  paid.  I am no longer sure if it was worth my freedom, because I have not been free for fifty-five years.  I am beginning to feel free now only because I decided to walk into that church there on the corner of Broadway and Fortieth.
  When it comes to religion, I don’t know if I am really anything!  I just remember Father Mike, one of our chaplains.  He would hear confessions, and I remember once asking him if he could hear my confession even though I wasn’t catholic.  He said sure.  I remember the clean feeling and the incredible relief.  It only lasted for about a half ‘a day.  But I always remembered it.
  I have no idea really what moved me to walk down to St. Charles three years ago.  Maybe it was remembering that feeling.
  I walked into the church as if I were walking back in time.  I felt like I was twenty-five years old.  I felt like I was turning myself in for what I wasn’t sure.  When I walked into the confessional room, it wasn’t like they show in the movies where the priest sits behind a screen.  He was just sitting there in a chair and there was a chair for me to sit in.  Now I really felt like I was before the judge.  I kept looking down and never really made eye contact with the priest.  As soon as my butt hit the chair, I just started weeping uncontrollably.  I could not even speak.  The priest scooted his chair up to mine and grabbed a hold of me.  I heard him pulling Kleenex from the box and the next thing I knew he was wiping the snot from my face like I was a little kid.  When he did that, I was no longer afraid.  I somehow knew that he knew.  And when I looked up at him, I saw for the first time that he was an old man.  Had to be at least my age.  Then he told me with tears running down his face, “I understand.  I was there too.” That is all he said.  Then he drove me to the hospital where I stayed for almost a month.
  After my stay in the hospital, I felt like a new person.  But soon I found myself hunkering down again.  The front line was clearer to me in that I began to know the difference between the real war and the war inside and around me. But it was war all the same.  As much as I wanted to escape the combat and go home, I was held back by a shit load of fear and paranoia.  I am still so paranoid that just the other day when I could not find my check book, I imagined that a burglar had somehow stealthfully invaded my house and stole only the check book.  Left everything else in the house untouched!  How such a sniper could enter my house without a key or without breaking in entry was not an issue.  It had happened.  When I realized just how preposterous that was, I then began to think that my wife must have snuck into the house and stole my check book to teach me a lesson. She never lets me forget that I am the worst at all the things I harangue and blame other people for.
  I did find my check book.  I had, myself, carefully hidden it under a pile of bills on the kitchen table.  I was in a hurry and even though no one else lives in the house, I wanted the check book out of sight, hidden from any and all prospective intruders!
  So you see, as much as I have literally craved my freedom, especially in these last three years, as much as I have been able to taste my freedom at times, I still for some ungodly reason strive to be as gallant as Captain Queeg. I am always dressed for war.  It is in my bones, in my blood, maybe even in my soul.
  But several months ago, I realized that I must be shedding some of this alligator skin because I was able to look into the eyes of a homeless man standing at the end of a freeway offramp.  Ordinarily, I avoid eye contact with such miserable creatures or I look at them with as much disdain as my eyes can fire.  But on that day, I was not afraid to acknowledge this person’s presence outside my passenger side window.  I looked over at the old soldier.  I caught his eye, smiled, and waved as we proceeded on home.  My son was driving, but he was not aware and I didn’t say anything to him. He didn’t notice the shed skin on the seat as he helped me out of the car.  But boy, I did.  I could feel the change in my heart.  I could breathe past the weight of that fear and paranoia that ordinarily huddles around my heart cavity like the smell of cooked broccoli.
  I started looking forward to Christmas sometime last August.  It was a very hot evening.  I was driving home from my Thursday night group and believe it or not, there was an ad about Christmas shopping on the radio.  I began to wonder if perchance, by being with my grandchildren and great grandchildren as they opened their gifts, I could make up for all the lost Christmases.  I wasn’t sure if I could tolerate the emotional pain of it all, but I began to look forward to the possibility that someone in the family might chance it and let me spend Christmas Eve or Christmas morning with them.   But as each day got closer to Christmas, I had this nagging fear that God would come to take me for reals this time.  It’s like hanging up the armor is a cruel hoax.  It’s like there’s no room up there for armor, and so once you get it all off, then it will be your time to go.  I know that sounds crazy, but that’s been my biggest fear lately.  The old priest told me that God does not work that way.  He is not a trickster.  The old priest kept reassuring me that I would have this Christmas with my family.
  I wasn’t sure if I would try to get together with my wife this Christmas.  She considers me dead.  She left me finally about five years ago. She could not take it any more.  I never beat her.  Well, she would say I browbeat her.  But I never laid a hand on her.  Well, yes, that was oddly part of the problem.  I never touched her.
  I was not drunk all the time, but I was off somewhere else all the time.  I was definitely not here, and I have no idea what gave her the courage at age seventy-three to leave me.  It’s hard for me to talk about this and to be totally honest with myself.  I don’t like looking at her picture of me, but looking has been an important step for me.  Courage or not, the fact of the matter is she had good reason to leave.
  We do see each other at family get togethers many of which I have avoided until recently. But it’s a long distance and silent meeting.  She sits on one side of the room and I on the other. We avoid conversation so as not to ruin the family celebration.  But I am feeling somewhat hopeful about us after today.  Well, at least I am feeling the courage to be hopeful.  Perhaps she does see that I have changed enough, and may be there is still some of that young handsome guy left inside of me.
  
  I would never in a million years have dreamed that last night and today would unfold the way they did.  I spent last night with my son David and his children and his two grandchildren, and then this morning with my daughter and her children and her grandchild.  It is hard to believe that we are all so old.  My son is fifty-four and my daughter is fifty-two.  I have another son who is forty-five and a daughter who is forty.
  David was somewhat nervous last night when I told him that I wanted to read The Night Before Christmas before we opened presents.  I saw that look in his eyes.  It was probably the same look he had when I used to rant and rave when I had too much to drink.  When I was drunk!
  At first, when I saw that look, I felt hurt and almost said, “Forget it.”  But something made me stay with it, and I was able to touch David’s shoulder and I simply said, “just let me know when you’re ready for me.  I promise I’ll read fast.”   

  Then the most phenomenal thing happened today.  During Christmas dinner, my ten-year-old grandson started his own congressional inquiry.
  “Grandpa, Mom says that you were in the war.”
  His mother quickly put a firm hand over his hand and almost like a warning told him, “Grandpa doesn’t like to talk about the war, Danny.”
  Everyone stopped breathing for a moment. Most of the adults looked down at their plates as if they were waiting for their heads to appear.  But the kids were all looking at me with great curiosity.
  “How many Christmases did you spend in the war?” my sixteen-year-old grandson asked.
  My son David got that nervous look again and quickly said, “Hey, it’s Christmas.  No war stories on Christmas.”
  “No,” I said.  “I think Christmas is a good time to talk about war.”  I could sense David bristling and getting ready to do battle with me, but I beat him to the punch.  “But let’s wait till after our pumpkin pie. Whoever wants, we’ll gather around the fireplace, and I will tell you all about the war.  Well, as much as I can remember.”
  “So is that story about the German and American soldiers singing Christmas Carols together on Christmas eve true?” pushed Brad.
  Brad was fourteen and his father looked at him with a smile and then to his brother, David, and laughed.  “I think we’re outnumbered, Dave.”
  So I answered Brad and just continued talking. We never made it to the fireplace.  
  It seemed like I talked but for a few minutes, but when I glanced up at the clock, I realized I had been talking for an hour.  I told them what it was like being so far away from home on Christmas day.  I told them that war is a terrible thing and that I hoped that none of them would ever have to spend a Christmas day at war.  I knew they probably did not catch the full meaning of my hope for them, that I did not want them to be at war in any way on Christmas day, not even at war with each other or their wives or children.
  I shared with them about some of my buddies. I told them all about Sarge and how he made us pretend we were eating an enormous turkey even though we were scraping the inside of a tin can.  I must have talked about Sarge a lot because Brad finally said, “Did you ever see Sarge again?”  
  Without giving it much thought, I simply said “No, I didn’t see Sarge after the war.”
“Do you know what happened to him?” Brad persisted.
  I paused for what seemed like a hundred years.  I knew I was walking a thin line, but I decided to pass on to my heirs everything I knew about war.  As I heard myself begin to speak again, I thought for a moment that I was Walter Conkrite.
  “Three weeks before the war ended, Sarge stepped on a booby trap.  It did not kill him, but he lost his legs and what he thought was the most important part of being a man.”  I tried to say it differently than Sarge would.  But ten-year-old Danny didn’t miss a trick and started to laugh and giggle.  “He lost his dick!” Danny shouted and then laughed uproariously like ten-year-olds do.  His mother rolled her eyes and scolded him.
  But I looked at Danny and shook my head in affirmation.  “You’re right, Danny.  And Sarge felt so bad that on the way home on the Queen Mary, he shot himself.  He damned near shot the soldier sitting next to him.”
  “Oh, gross,” twelve-year-old  Melissa shrieked.
 “Have we had enough war stories for one Christmas?”  David began to bristle again and stare at me.
  Danny continued to giggle and he said one more time out loud.  “He lost his dick!”  The other kids giggled and laughed.  The adults also finally laughed as they watched Danny roll around in his chair. Well, except for David.  He got up from the table and walked into the kitchen.
  I knew I had been a booby trap for David all these years, and that somehow I had robbed him of part of his manhood.  So I followed David out to the kitchen where he continued to fire at me.  “I think you were better when you were drunk.  At least you didn’t talk about this shit.”
  I wanted to tell David that he was wrong, that I was better off now talking about this shit, and had I been able to talk about it all before that maybe I wouldn’t have had to go to war with him.  But in my old age, I have learned the wisdom of silence.  Well, at least some times I know when to keep my mouth shut.
  I just stood there next to David and put my arm around his shoulders.  I started to rub the tight muscles at the base of his neck.  “It’s been a wonderful day for me David.  I am grateful that you allowed me to be here today and last night.”  In my fantasy, David began to cry and he let me hold him, but in reality, he just stood there emotionless and then walked back into the dining room.  I knew it would be awhile before David and I could connect without our bullet proof vests.  I like to think that I have already discarded mine, but sometimes pride keeps even an old man from recognizing his crusty old defenses.
  “So when did you meet Grandma?” Brad asked.  I looked across the table at my wife of almost fifty-four years.  She had been here the entire evening, but as usual, we spoke not a word to each other.  I was surprised to see her looking at me with a hesitant smile.  Before I could answer Brad, she started talking.
  “I met your grandfather at our senior prom. He was dancing with Susan Wilson, and I was dancing with Bruce Willis.”
  “The movie star?” Melissa shouted.
  “No sweety.  Another Bruce Willis.  But he could have been a movie star.  He was very handsome, but not quite as handsome as your grandfather.  I just kept staring at him and finally he noticed.  He started blushing when he realized what was happening.  I remember thinking that he was blushing because he was falling for me too.  He wanted to marry me the week before he left for overseas.  But as much as I was in love with him, I told him he would have to wait till he got back.  I wrote him every day for the three years he was gone.”
  “Did he write you every day, Grandma?” Melissa asked.
  “Yes he did, Melissa.  He kept a diary of every day and of every battle.  I still put that old musty book under my pillow every night, hoping that he really will come back home some day.”  And then she began to cry.  I sat there filling up with so much pain, I thought I might be having a heart attack.  I did not know if it was the right thing to do to let it all out or if I would even survive such an event.  I mustered up all the force I could and put my finger in what was once a small hole in the dike, but was now a gaping hole yearning to break open--full blown.  I walked over to her and picked up that little old woman in my arms, and she screamed and all the kids laughed.  Then the adults all screamed as I stumbled and almost dropped her!
  Then leave it to Danny.  He shouted again, “Look at Grandpa kissing Grandma.  They’re frenching.”  He laughed hysterically and his mother swatted his behind.  But Danny was right.  I was frenching my beautiful bride who thought I was dead.
  It’s a terrible thing to live so many years a prisoner of war, but it is a wonderful thing to become free and to enjoy finally the spoils of war.  I wish I wouldn’t have had to go through this experience in the first place, but I did, and as the old priest told me, “there’s a reason for everything.” I don’t know if I believe that.
  I don’t know what might have happened had I not gone to war in 1942.  I don’t know what kind of person I would be today.  I do know what kind of person I am having been there.  I know I have paid a very high price and so has my family and loved ones.  I do not know how to make any good sense of it all.  And this part sounds almost as incomprehensible as war itself.  I can only be grateful that at this very late moment in my life, I have finally discovered the gifts of war.  I am not even sure what I mean by that.  I could not even tell you for sure what the gifts are except that I am finally on the verge of being free.  Free in a way that I could never be, without having gone into the depths of hell.  It’s only a miracle that I ever saw hands reaching out to me, no, down to me, and I was somehow able to reach back and little by little climb out.  I’m not one for letting other people help me, at least not in that way. Well, maybe that’s not totally true.  Maybe I was that way once, a long time ago, when I was puking after races instead of after slaughters and when figit wasn’t an acronym but something I did when I was little and afraid.
  I noticed another old man like myself the other day hobbling down Fulton Avenue.  We looked at each other from across the street.  I nodded and he nodded back.  We old soldiers who never die can spot each other a mile away, as they say.
  I am not any better than him.  Know that.  But he is still there.  He is still there.
  I can only hope that perhaps through some miracle of his own, he too received the gifts of war this Christmas.  



The Gifts of War: A Christmas Story  Copyright © 1999 by Vernon R. Bradley.  All rights reserved.  Printed in the United States of America.  No part of this publication may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.  For information, write to Vernon Bradley, P. O. Box 48, Yucaipa, CA 92399.




Saturday, December 24, 2016

GOD'S DREAM






  It was Christmas Eve at St. Francis which stood in the middle of what they called “Old Town,” a part of the city that was purposely unchanged since the fifties.  As John walked up the center aisle of the Gothic church, he smiled at the Christmas Eve crowd and the magical odor suspended throughout the nave and sanctuary like an invisible fog.  This odor of sanctity was a unique Christmas eve blend of perfumes, fresh booze, and 70 years of incense.  And tonight, he would add a fresh layer of incense during the blessing of the crib.

  John was famous or infamous, depending upon your point of view, for his Christmas Eve homilies.  Always something different.  It was John’s preference not to spreak from the pulpit.  Instead, he preferred walking back and forth in front of the first row of pews and occasionally about half way down the center aisle.

  One year, he asked the adults, who suddenly became shy, what they knew about the meaning of Christmas.  The kids throughout the congregation spontaneously and proudly shouted out answers.  As unmanageable as it seemed to become, John loved every minute of it as did the kids.  The adults haven’t stopped talking about it, but have continued to show up for midnight Mass anyway, most likely because by the time Midnight Mass rolls around, they are all a tad or a lot tipsy, at least enough to ultimately not care what Father John might have up his sleeve this Christmas Eve.

  When it came time for the homily, John stood on the step of the sanctuary where the congregation in years past had knelt to receive communion.  He stood there for a painfully long time, looking about the congregation as if he were looking for someone in particular.  He would tell you that he was really looking for everyone, and he also admitted that he did derive at least a little sadistic pleasure from the discomfort that gradually rose to a dead silence.  And when there was not even the sound of breathing, he stepped down into the nave and began to speak.

  “What a good looking group here tonight!  Merry Christmas.”
The congregation laughed a little and many responded with, “Merry Christmas, Father.”

  For a moment, he donned an Irish brogue.  “So yar all sober are ya?  Raise yar hands!”

  Some folks who were obviously not sober raised their hands and most folks just laughed.  A six year old in the middle of the congregation shouted out, “Mom says Dad’s not sober,” and the congregation roared as they turned around to see who the embarrassed parents were!

  “Well, sober ar not, we’re har tis Christmas Eve, we are, ta celebrate sometin vary special.”  And with that, he smiled, cleared his throat, and set aside his brogue.

  “You know, I had to study for quite a few years to become a priest, and since my ordination, I have continued to study a great many things.  I have read all the great philosophers and theologians.  I’ve read the scriptures in Greek, Latin, and English and studied the Hebrew and Aramaic scriptures as well. I familiarized myself with other religions like Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism. I’ve studied the Shamans and the medicine men and women of our Native American peoples.  From all my studying, I learned a lot about God, but I never really found God.

  “It seems that God is nowhere to be found in a church, a synagogue, a mosque or in any religious organization, nor in any particular theology.  God is even difficult to find in the Scriptures that are often packed-full of violence and holy people who are quite judgmental and self righteous.  The God in the Scriptures is also quite often judgmental, angry and vengeful, worse sometimes than all the so-called false gods.

  "But I’m happy to tell you this evening, that one day, I did find God.  You might even say, stumbled upon God.  It was about six years ago when I had to admit to myself that I drank too much. And I was fortunate enough to find a group of folks who like me, admitted that they drank too much as well.  And I started getting together with these folks almost every morning, and we would share just what it takes for us to stay sober one day at a time.  And we all agree that it is a journey and spiritual journey at that.

  “Through sharing with these other ordinary people who also  found God interestingly enough at the most humbling moment of their lives, and who have decided to literally turn their lives over to the care of God in order to remain sober, I discovered that there was a door through which I could walk if I choose.  That door was the entrance to my heart and my soul, to the part of me that is both mysterious and sacred.  The God that I found there was not interested in judging me.  In fact, this God doesn’t approve of me being afraid of Him.  This God was not only willing to take care of my life, but actually whispered in my ear, 'I love you, John.   I love you, John, I do.  I do.'"

  “I slowly found peace and serenity with this God in my heart and my soul.  And I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow!  All these years of studying and I missed God completely.  God was right here, all the time waiting for me, not to find Him, but to simply open my eyes and recognize Him, right there in my heart and soul.’”

  “Well, then something really amazing happened, like two days ago.  One of the folks in this morning group of drunks I was telling you about shared this most amazing story.  He was telling us that it dawned on him recently that seven Christmases ago, the woman of his dreams, who was only an acquaintance at the time, actually dreamt about him.

  “‘Can you believe that?’ he said.  ‘The woman of my dreams, who I didn’t even know really at the time, she was actually dreaming about me.  I was in her dreams.  She dreamt that we were sitting together all snuggled up in front of a fire place, just watching the fire.’”

  “He went on to tell us that eight months later they started  a serious romantic relationship, and now six Christmases later, they’re still madly in love.  They’re romantics and a couple of old folks like many of us here this evening who have been up and down the roller coaster of life through both the storms and the calm, trying to live with crazy family members and even sane ones.  We all know that story, don’t we?  And most of us think we’re the only sane ones in our families.”  And the congregation laughed.

  “So why am I sharing this story with you?  Well, here’s what I got out of the story.  You see a few minutes ago, I talked about finding God in my own heart and soul, but after listening to this man share about the woman of his dreams dreaming about him, I realized that I have it all wrong.  God is not in my heart and soul.  I am in God’s heart and soul, and I am in God’s dream just like each and everyone of you are in God’s dream.  So you see, there can be no way that we are separate from God.  We are literally a part of God, in particular, God’s dream.  
  
  “So why did God send Jesus to us on Christmas?  He didn’t send Jesus so that we could turn around and kill him and that we did.  He did not send Jesus to die for our sins.  I know that sounds like heresy and you can email the Bishop when you get home.”  The congregation laughed.  “But think about it.  He sent Jesus to let us know we are not separate from God, but a part of God just like Jesus.    
  
  “Our job is not to repent for our sins.  But to simply come to our senses and realize that we are God’s dream and to keep ourselves precious and sacred because that is how God dreams us to be.

  “Oh, I could go on and on here this evening talking about how we get caught up seeing God as a judge instead of as a lover.  I could go on and on about how we tend to fear God and of course, love and fear don’t mix, and God is love, right?  So God and fear can’t mix either.  But I think I want to keep it ever so simple as is the Christmas story itself.  A babe being born and layed in a manger.

  “So take a few moments, right now.”  He returned to his chair, and continued talking.  “Let’s all close our eyes and just let ourselves become aware.  You and I are God’s dream.”

   He closed his eyes and drifted off momentarily and then awoke with a startle.  At first he wasn’t sure how much time had passed. He glanced at his watch and to his relief, only a few minutes. When he stood up, he quickly looked around at the congregation.  They were all sitting peacefully, including the kids, with their eyes closed.  He smiled to himself.  And then quietly said, “Please stand.”

Saturday, December 17, 2016

THE WIZARD OF TRUMP TOWERS:JOBS RHETORIC


America IS great!


I have consciously stayed out of the political discussion in recent months just because it is so insane to me and rarely speaks to facts or reality.  I decided to post this today because I heard Donald Trump one more time today in Alabama, talk about money being taken from America by foreign countries, and that he will put a stop to that and bring back jobs to America.  Of course, the crowd cheered. What is the crowd cheering about?  Or do they give these statements any thought?


Donald Trump is an intelligent man, and he knows this rhetoric is just so much bologna (made where?).  What Trump does not tell the crowd is that foreign countries are not the culprits, but it’s corporate America of which he too is a part.  Very few, for example, of Trump’s own brand products are manufactured in the United States of America.  Donald Trump’s claims “they don’t even make them (his brand products) here any more” is something he wishes were true, but it is not.
(Interview with ABC, May 08, 2016, http://www.factcheck.org/2016/05/trumps-made-in-the-u-s-a-spin/


Donald Trump likes to sell himself as a business man.  Great.  So tell the whole story.  He is not interested in providing a costly wage to anyone, and his bottom line is always the success of his own business and will continue to be so, except now, his business is being President of our country, and he will do whatever it takes to make himself look good and bring cheers from crowds of folks who see him as a savior, because they buy into his rhetoric hook line and sinker and don’t realize that he is first and foremost a business man running HIS business, not their business.


As a businessman, Trump has used his name to market a wide variety of products whose prices are inflated just because of the Trump label.  I have nothing against that.  It’s good business.  But will he make sure that he levies a 35 percent tariff on those brand products manufactured outside the United States?  Or better, will he insource to American companies to manufacture his brand products and be willing to pay more than he pays in Mexico and China so that Americans can have decent-paying jobs?


I personally have nothing against outsourcing other than it is a sound business tactic to avoid taxes and labor costs with questionable regard for the folks whose labor made it possible for the corporation to become successful in the first place.  But just maybe there is an intelligent and profitable-for-all “fix” for this on-going balancing act for businesses and corporations here in America.  Nick Hanauer discusses this very issue in a most informative article.  Read it and be surprised what this billionaire has to say to his fellow billionaires.
  http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-pitchforks-are-coming-for-us-plutocrats-108014

The joke of all of this discussion is that there are millions of job opportunities in our country right now, but there is a lack of qualified applicants to hire into these jobs.  Why is that?  That seems like a more relevant problem than the so-called lack of jobs.  And why isn’t Donald Trump talking about that?  Why didn’t he tell this crowd in Alabama that there are plenty of jobs, and they need to reach down inside themselves somewhere and find what it takes to go after the training to be qualified for these jobs?  Yes, it would make him very unpopular.  


There is plenty of room in the business world for successful entrepreneurs, and I think in our technologically- advanced era, there are an infinite number of products, some perhaps not even on the drawing board yet, that require or will require manufacturing.  Can Donald Trump focus his “charisma” in inspiring entrepreneurs to develop and manufacture new products, and can he inspire our country’s labor force to go after the training they need to be hired?  Let’s stop blaming other countries, for crying out loud.  The problem is right here and Donald Trump is a part of the problem. Hopefully, he will choose to come from behind the curtain and be part of the solution.


Just in case you are wondering, I did not vote for Hilary!  I have nothing against Donald Trump except for his same ol’ BS that all the other politicians propagate, and he like other politicians, including Hilary, have no clue about the Middle East, their culture, their way of life, their values, their religion.  For hundreds of years, our only interest there has been oil and military domination, and neither of those have been even remotely successful for us.  Will we ever learn?  Trump’s rhetoric on the Middle East sounds like he will continue in that vein, and we will continue to lose our children to the gods of oil and the gods of war.  ISIS is not the problem in the Middle East.  Our ignorance about the people, the tribes, the regions of the Middle East is the problem.


I think a good place for me to stop!  Thank you for reading and increasing your knowledge about political issues that we never stop to really explore and think about.

The opportunities are already here.
We don't need to blame other countries for the lack of jobs.

      

Sunday, June 28, 2015

REFLECTIONS ON GAY MARRIAGE

Picture copied from Ten Famous Paintings With Hidden Codes
I am always concerned when we, who follow the Judeo-Christian theological traditions and beliefs, use the Bible the same way the Pharisees did. Have we learned nothing from Jesus’ crucifixion? That we, as people, crucified Jesus because Jesus did not follow God’s law?

I am grateful we do not follow the many many many many verses in the Bible that would have us kill people as punishment for their sins as well as banish people for being unclean, for example, lepers. How is it that our human wisdom directs us NOT to follow those directives? 

It is interesting to me that many of us rely upon our OWN inspired wisdom to believe that life begins at conception. The literal interpretation of Biblical verses implies that life begins when we breathe on our own and we die when we stop breathing. But we use our own inspired wisdom to go beyond what is available in the Bible to cherish our unborn children and to cherish life in general.

So, can we also begin to rely upon our own inspired wisdom to recognize there are “things” in God’s creation that we do not understand, for example, that ten percent of the population have a sexual orientation that is different from the other ninety percent? Why did God do that? Is God a trickster? I, for one, do not think so, and I think in this contemporary time of some level of “tolerance,” God wants us to learn from gay people and gay couples something about our own sexuality and our relationships.

The gay men with whom I associate and work with in my practice, offer a gentleness and a kindness that I just do not see in straight men, and definitely not in homophobic straight men. When I work with gay couples, it is inspiring to observe them negotiating the relationship beyond the stereotypes that the straight world brings to relationships, and most of the conflicts in marriage center around these stereotypes, some of them hard fast justified by fundamentalist “Christians” who use the Bible to justify male egocentricity and domination.

I realize there are many many many issues here, again issues that are difficult to resolve. For example, I wonder how it works for a child raised in a gay family without that “compliment” of a mom and dad. But perhaps the issue is no more or no less a concern than the zillions of children raised in a family with a mom and a dad who never address their gender wounds which they bring to their family from their own history and inflict these wounds upon their children in so many destructive and painful ways.  

To be honest, I don’t know what to think about “gay marriage,” except that I know the gay couples with whom I work in my practice are genuinely committed to each other and love each other and can be and are as much a sign of God’s love for God’s people as heterosexual couple can be and are.

We have yet, as a species, come to know what it looks like to love. We are getting there, and there are many concrete examples of love in our world today, and some of you demonstrate love in your daily life as well as in your relationships in many outstanding ways. But in general, we still have a long way to go. We will know we have arrived when killing people for whatever reason is no longer an option in our world, and we use all the other powers God has given us to stop those who continue to kill.

“Gay marriage,” is not a concept or an idea. It is about people who love each other and we may not understand it, but that is not a reason to condemn it and be afraid of it, And, even if you insist upon condemning gay marriage, see if there is something else on which to spend your energy, like inviting someone you don’t like over for dinner. And yes, I know I will get a lot of invites after this post!!

I posted the picture of the laughing Jesus because I think sometimes, Jesus doesn’t know what to do with us, but laugh! 
Pinterest link for this picture


Sunday, May 17, 2015

TODAY'S SMORGASBORD

I love smorgasbords, and today I invite you to one of those smorgasbords.  Unfortunately, it’s in my head, but I really suggest you take a bite of everything.  Com’on, be old fashioned and just be obedient. Trust me.  I’m an old guy with some wisdom for you.  Take a taste of everything.





The first dish are my thoughts about war.  If I remember my history correctly, we won the Revolutionary War partly because we were humble and smart enough not to arrogantly attempt to thwart off the British by lining up in a straight row and thinking that our brute force could outmatch their brute force.

In the conflicts following the Revolutionary War, it would have been so amazing if our leaders could have continued to think with their brains rather than with their weapons and perhaps by now, we would have an entire arsenal of “weapons” that did not wreak havoc and violence and destruction, but actually brought both a peaceful resolve to conflicts as well as prosperity to both us and our enemies.

This second dish are my reflections on the events in Boston this past week.  I’ve heard a lot of discussion about justice finally being served.  (Fits the smorgasbord metaphor!).  I’m not sure I get it at all.  What justice?  Two brothers thought they were carrying out some wild-ass bombing raid that would somehow change the world or have them go down in history or would somehow get back at America for what?  Who knows?  Perhaps their entire goal was simply to humble us, to make us feel very very vulnerable, and indeed, they accomplished that.  I think it is good that we know we are vulnerable.  We can always learn something from vulnerability, for example, hopefully the next time, terrorist decide to take another 9-11 shot, the folks at the airline gates or the border or the subway station or wherever will be slightly more intuned.  I mean I still can’t fathom how all those folks managed to board those planes. Even before 9-11, you and I would never have been able to board a plane with as much suspicion as they carried with them.


After the jury’s decision, I heard one intelligent man say that  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had won an early ticket to hell. Well, that’s kind of interesting because apparently a lot of these folks think they’re going STRAIGHT TO HEAVEN and once there, are going to hang out with a bunch of virgins. So who’s right or does it even matter?  The thing I’ve never figured out is why folks like suicide bombers and other “martyrs” haven’t put it together yet.  Those virgins are virgins.  What makes them think they’re going to give that up once they arrive!  

Do we ever stop to realize that there are people all over the world who think that justice is served every time an American soldier is killed?  Do we ever stop to think how many people around the world hate us because we killed their families, their children, destroyed their homes, their neighborhoods, their city, their country as a result of so-called collateral damage?



The bomber was tried and the jury decided his fate according to federal law.  That’s not Justice.  That’s cowboy justice.  The Hatfields and the Mccoys.  And each time someone is brought to so-called justice and murdered, the cycle is propelled farther down the road of hatred, violence, and more killing.

The dessert portion of the smorgasbord is about the upcoming 2016 election.




I’m looking for a politician to come along who will outline for the American people how little we have learned from every military engagement starting from the Revolutionary War, including the pitiful Civil War, including World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Viet Nam War, down to our pointless invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan.

We are too arrogant to acknowledge we made HUGE mistakes on so many levels.  That we chose oil and power over our own sons and daughters whom we sacrificed to the gods of war.  Unfortunately it’s our American mentality that believes we are either the greatest or we are going to show and convince everyone that we are the greatest by sheer brute force.  This archaic mentality drives the populous support of corporate driven military strategy with little consideration for the consequences to human life and world peace.  

So I’m looking for a politician who will have the courage to stand up to our brute force prowess mentality and show us how we can become much more effective around the world if we support other people being the best they can be within their own culture, their own religion, their own economy, their own borders.  We did it for Japan post world war II, and we can do it again for other countries, and we can do it without going to war with them. Interestingly enough, war with Japan started over oil.  Yes, read your history.  Pearl Harbor was an attempt to prevent our Navy from blockading Japan's ports.  World War II was not about Pearl Harbor.  It was about economics, the same way our own Revolutionary War was about economics.

I’m also looking for a politician who does not want to be popular, and who will outline a way for us to take care of our own citizens and to stop making it about socialism and capitalism.  Taking care of our own people doesn’t have to be a philosophical debate on economics.  I’m waiting for a republican politician to stand up and tell his wealthy corporate jock straps that outsourcing is, plain and simple, UNAMERICAN.  I think creating jobs in other countries is absolutely awesome, but don’t do it at the cost of jobs at home.  I have to admit, I am not an economist, but I run my own business and I do it well, and I know that I am not the only business on the block or in the city or in the state or in the country that can be successful.  And if I wanted to open up shop in another country, I wouldn’t have to fire all my employees here to do that.  Oh, I forgot.  It’s about taxes. For crying out loud, get a grip.  Taxes are taxes.  Figure it out.  I mean, you always do, so don’t use that excuse.  The reason you outsource is the price of labor.  You want to use people for your gain.  It is that simple.  I know, you’ve gotten over it and you want me to get over it too, and I have.  It’s just a fact, but I’m going to keep the truth on the table, and I’m looking for a politician to come along and put that truth on the table for all of us to see.

Now we come to the beverage portion of the smorgasbord, the fine wines and spirits of myth and reality.




The truth is that you can be as wealthy as you want to be in this country, and you NEVER have to achieve your wealth by using or walking on or over other people.  It is certainly one way to do it, and many folks have done it that way.  But you don’t have to.  I’m not much of a believer in the distribution of wealth because I think there is plenty of wealth to go around for everyone.  And you gotta be willing to go after whatever amount of wealth you want, using your own creative resources instead of talking people into working for you for as little as you can pay them; convincing them that you are doing them a big favor when, in reality, they are doing you the big favor.

Instead, learn to attract folks to work WITH you, along side of you, and give them the opportunity to go after whatever amount of wealth they want to have.  Attract people to work with you because perhaps you have the skills to teach them how to create and enjoy wealth.  It’s not about socialism or capitalism.  It’s simply about hard work and dreams.

And give up our arrogant "thing" about earning.  If you're rich and wealthy, don't fool yourself into thinking you earned it. Either it fell in your lap OR you saw the possibilities and went after them.  Sometimes, you took out any and everyone who was in your way, including your mother.  What you didn't realize is that you didn't have to do that.  It's part of the power mentality that makes you think you earned and therefore deserve every and anything you want.  None of us ever deserve anything and none of us ever earn anything.   The creative forces of the universe are not based upon such arrogant concepts. 

And if we change the notion that the poor will always be with us and stop using Jesus’ words to jock strap our maintaining a hierarchical order in economics, then we’d all have to learn to enjoy work, enjoy paying taxes for the country we have, and enjoy our wealth instead of hoarding it.

Well, I hope you took a bite of everything and please let me know what was tasty and what you thought was abominable.  It's the only way we can MOVE forward.



I shared my thoughts on the Boston Marathon Bombing at the time it occurred.  You can check it out on this You Tube Link . 

Monday, May 4, 2015

REFLECTIONS ON MY FIRST COMMUNION

Today is the first Sunday in May.  Sixty two years ago, May 3, 1953, I received my First Communion.  I was seven years old and in second grade.


I remember well, the day before, going for a haircut.  It seemed uneventful to me, just another haircut, but my Mom and Dad were quite upset with the haircut.  Dad joked that he had no sooner sat down to read a magazine and the barber was finished.

What I remember about the haircut is it was very very short on the sides and back.  It didn’t look particularly bad to me as I looked in the mirror, but Mom and Dad were so upset about it that I was left with the impression that anyone who wasn’t blind would either be shocked or would burst out laughing.  In my best recollection of what the “hairdo” looked like and my current ability or inability to make sense of what happened back then, perhaps once the barber had consciously or unconsciously taken off everything on the sides, he didn’t know what to do with the top!  Or maybe Dad gave him some instructions that he heard differently from Dad’s intent.  Who knows?  But again, it was one of those childhood experiences that I didn’t know how to make sense of only that I looked shockingly weird.  It was not exactly a good framework for such a blessed occasion.  Of course, that's your cue.  Play the violin!

I also remember being very very nervous.  Scared I might swallow some toothpaste and break my fast.  Yes, remember that insanity? It was a warm morning, and the church was crowded and stuffy.  I had butterflies in my stomach, and by Communion time, I was feeling a tad faint.  I remember having a hard time swallowing the host which stuck to the roof of my mouth, and that made me even more nervous.  I was glad when Mass was over, and we went home to celebrate with danishes from Nurmie’s bakery.  But I did relish that now I could approach the communion rail with everyone else and receive Communion.

Since that Sunday, sixty two years ago, I have grown in my understanding of and love and appreciation for the Eucharistic CELEBRATION and for the miracle of the Eucharist.  And that understanding, love, and appreciation has not waned.



For many years, I took Jesus to the sick, and that was always a highlight of my day even with Joe who was so lonely that he practically tied me to the chair and did everything he could to keep me from leaving.  I started falling asleep on Joe, I guess as a way to escape, but it didn’t bother him in the least.  Taking Jesus to Joe was always an hour to an hour and a half “ordeal.”  But that ordeal did not detract from the overall joy I experienced bringing Jesus, in the form of healing bread, to folks who were bed-ridden or house-bound for one reason or another.

On one occasion, I stood on Bob’s oxygen hose during the entire time I was saying the prayers and giving Bob the Eucharist.  I sometimes exaggerate the story and say that I couldn’t figure out why Bob was turning blue.  “I was bringing Bob the Bread of Life and killing him at the same time!”     

I actually met very interesting people with very interesting and touching stories during my ministry, and some of them even famous which was so cool because I realized that we are all in the same boat here together, no matter who we are, no matter our so-called status in this world.  We are all pilgrims, and we will all become dependent some day the same way we arrived, and we will all leave some day and move on to a heaven we know little about.  

My understanding, love, and appreciation of the Eucharist has not waned, but I have almost no desire to attend “Mass.”  And with the building of bigger and bigger churches as a way to avoid changing the canonical law on celibacy, Mass is just that, a mass of people looking straight ahead and having no idea what this ritual is all about, and neither does the organizational church, unfortunately.  I say that because Benedict, God Bless him, took us back in the Eucharistic prayers to a pre Vatican II English version of the original Latin Mass instead of the vernacular version prescribed by Vatican II.  Many important prayers and responses have lost the significant meaning embedded in the vernacular translation of Vatican II.




Here is the most profound example for me.  After Vatican II, when the priest holds up the host and the cup of consecrated wine to the congregation just prior to everyone receiving communion, the priest says, “Behold the Lamb of God.....Happy are those who are called to His supper.”   The congregation responds with “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

For some reason, these meaningful changes must have been threatening to Pope Benedict, and when he finally got his chance, he took the Church backwards to the pre Vatican II Latin response which reads, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Note, pre-Vatican II, this response was never spoken in English. And the Vatican tries to persuade us that this version of the prayer is more closely aligned with Scripture. 

Well, that is really weird, because the Scriptures were not originally written in Latin, but in Greek.  And in the Scripture, this verse is based upon the story of the Centurion who requests Jesus to heal his servant.  When Jesus said that he would come to the Centurion’s house, the Centurion replied, “Lord I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed.”  The Centurion said nothing about his own soul nor his servant’s soul. He wanted his servant to be healed, his servant’s whole being to be healed.


Image taken from Laleocafe


The Vatican II vernacular response gives testimony to our belief that in the Eucharist, we receive the body of Jesus, and in our reception, Jesus heals our whole person, all of us, not just our soul.

So these new revisions have successfully taken us back to a dualism between body and soul which ultimately allows the organizational church to disregard our physical humanity, to delegate our body to a split off lesser “place” in the scheme of creation.  This conceptualization of being split into different parts, one being more important than the other, goes totally contrary to our current understanding of who we are as God’s creatures and the belief that our BODIES are temples.  

Not to mention that Jesus did not speak in Latin and the Gospels were most likely written originally in Aramaic or Greek and only later translated into Latin.  And in translating the Scriptures into Latin, there is a richness of the Greek text that is often lost.  Take the phrase in John’s Gospel, “The word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.” The Greek actually says “....He pitched his tent amongst us.”  For me, that is a profound juiciness that gets lost in the Latin translation.

This reverting back to translating Latin into a literal English version rather than a vernacular translation reinforces the word ROMAN.   The fact that the organizational church continues to hang on to the identification of Roman is a clear message that the organizational church, in other words, Rome or the Vatican, is not here to inspire us, but only to CONTROL us.  The Vatican DOES NOT look like Jesus in any way whatsoever, and if anyone can show me one way that the Vatican looks and acts like Jesus, I will welcome your comments. 

Yes, we have a new Pope who is much like John the twenty third, but like John, he is often held captive by an organizational structure that has its own existence as the priority and not the message of the Gospel.  Francis is obviously humble and connected to us common every day people, and let’s pray that he will someday dissolve the organizational structure and create a new “structure” that is representative of the way Jesus lived his life and representative of the many invitations Jesus offers us in the living word to live our lives.

I do not think that most Catholics who attend Mass and who receive Communion have even the slightest understanding that the point of the Eucharist is for us to offer, as sacrifice, our body and blood and our lives as a pleasing offering to God.  The word sacrifice, by the way, means to make sacred or holy.  It does not mean to destroy or give up.  The meaning of “do this in remembrance of me,” has been totally lost in a notion of worship. God does not want worship. God invites us to love and to transform our lives.

Part of what we hope to gain from our attendance at the Eucharistic Celebration is some inspiration in the homily as the priest or deacon gives us some insight into the Scripture readings.  In “my” Church in Yucaipa, the priest reads his homily and it appears he reads it from a book.  What?  Why is he afraid to take the risk to be himself and trust that we will love him no matter how good a speaker he is and to share with us what is in his heart?  I know that is a huge judgment, but the reason I say this is because there is NOTHING personal in the homily.  There is no shepherd speaking to us.  There is NO ONE for us to follow.  The words are theological diatribe that are meaningless when it comes to facing our own day-to-day struggles and the day-to-day struggles of our family, our neighborhood, our city, our State, our country.  Those words teach us nothing about getting out of the parking lot after the celebration is over or even before the celebration is over.

Yes, I am going visit him and gently and humbly offer my support in working with him to give a homily from his heart and his own experience of living the Gospel, both his success and his failure, as a model for us to continue to grow and continue to hope in a world that is often hopeless.

I don’t know how common it is that priests do not address the Scripture readings with an application to both their own personal lives and to our lives, but when that is lacking, the Liturgy of the word and the Eucharistic celebration simply becomes an exercise to fulfill our obligation which is also meaningless in the big scheme of things.

If we were really taking in the meaning of the Eucharist, we would be willing to make eye contact with each person standing at the end of each off ramp and actually show them with our eyes and facial expression that we love them and are willing to do SOMETHING to support them in making their lives better.  SOMETHING! Perhaps ANYTHING short of judging them and avoiding them and pretending that they are not standing there.  Maybe we could take the risk of giving them whatever we can afford to give them at that moment in time, whether that be food, water, our time, money, ANYTHING.  Maybe, we could even give them a job!


From Kwaree Blog


There is a wonderful line in the movie, Lars And The Real Girl, where the pastor says, “We have to ask ourselves here, what would Jesus do?”  If we really take in the meaning of the Eucharist, we open ourselves up to looking at everything that is going on in our world today, especially the events we cannot understand or make sense out of and ask the simple question, “What would Jesus think, what would Jesus say, what would Jesus do?”  This is what we could be helped with in a homily.

I could go on and on, as many of you know.  But I do not want to profess my beliefs.  I do want to live my values which means my behavior, on a day-to-day basis, reflects what I say I believe in. “What you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me” is a haunting belief of mine, and one that I cannot rationalize away no matter what my brother is doing or saying.  I wish this verse were equally haunting to the organizational church.

So my daily endeavor is to find ways to bring Love to the world in every situation that I encounter.  For me, killing people, war, punishing people because they deserve to be punished, excommunicating people from my circle, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, are not options.  Yes, it becomes challenging then to come up with options, but the foundation for any option for me is Love, bread, and healing.




So, today, I celebrate, my First Communion, realizing that my First Communion was really the “day” God said, “Let there be Vern.” And God said that for each one of us, and so it is not for me to decide whether or not you deserve my love, my care, my respect, my attention, all the goodness that God has given me to offer to you.  And ironically, this kind of transformation I am writing about begins with Vern deciding to love Vern the way God loved me into existence.

Thank You for reading.