Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Remember the Little Drummer Boy


Like the song says, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And buying gifts for those we love should be a heartwarming experience. Unfortunately, it can be a heart-pounding experience, a chore, an obligation, and at some stores, a terrible time of pushing, shoving and, ye gads, sometimes even fistfights.

                             Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
                             A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
                           
How did Christmas get wrapped in gaudy commercialism?   

                             Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
                             To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
                             rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

I’ve written about this before, but worth revisiting. The custom of giving gifts to loved ones on a special day in winter probably began in ancient Rome where people gave these gifts as part of their year end celebration to honor Saturn, the god of harvest. The festivities began in the middle of December and continued until January 1st.  It was in 350 A.D. that Pope Julius I declared December 25 as the official date for celebrating the birth of Christ.
                              
                  So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
                  When we come.
                  Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum

Saturnalia was considered a festive time for Romans, but Christians believed it an abomination to honor a pagan god. Eventually, the Church was successful in removing the merriment, lights and gifts from the Saturnalia and transferring them to the celebration of a Christian Christmas.

                            I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
                            I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
                           That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
                           rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

In our country, gift giving reportedly began in the 1820’s, though advertising for the
concept began years earlier. By the 1840’s, giving gifts at Christmas became a
mainstream custom in society and grew tremendously in the 1930’s when Coca-Cola  
incorporated Santa Claus into its marketing campaign. 

                                   Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum, 
                                   On my drum?

Today, traditions of holiday gift-giving have grown more complicated.  There are questions of money and meaning, of different faiths, of different cultures. To further complicate matters, November and December include Christmas  ( December 25),Ramadan’s Eid-al-Fitr ( timed to the sighting of the new moon, around November 25)Hanukkah (December 19-27) and
Kwanzaa (December 26-January 1) all of which have distinct gift traditions. Neighbors, friends, families and co-workers really stress over how and what to give to the many different people in their lives.
  
                                    Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
                                    The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum 

And now, even as the Advent season has begun, the joy we should be feeling for the coming birth of Christ has been pushed aside by harried shoppers in the frenzy of buying gifts in crowded stores.
                                          
                                          I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
                                         I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
                                         rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum
,

Let’s get ready for the wonderful birth of Christ.  And, let’s not worry about what to buy. For, in the end, the gifts we exchange do not matter. As the classic “Little Drummer Boy” reminds us, it is the love they represent that does. Rejoice and be glad. The Lord will soon be born and be among us.  
                                    
                                     Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
                                     Me and my drum. 

Come, let us adore Him. You can bring your drum.

Pa rum pum pum pum.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hell Is For Real,Too

“The hell with it!”, “ That was a helluva ball game!”, “Get the hell out of here!”, ‘Where the hell do you think you’re going?”…Add your own favorites.

It’s amazing how often we refer to hell and yet, apparently, we not only do not fear it, but also seem to think we’re all going to heaven, implicitly denying its existence. Have you read the obituaries lately? At my age, it’s required. As the late George Burns said, “The first thing I do in the morning is read the obituaries. If I’m not listed, I get up”.

Almost every obituary I read these days says pretty much that the deceased has “gone to be with her Lord” or “went to be in the arms of his Savior”. Not to be disrespectful, but, I think the obit should have read “he died and went to be judged”. He may be cast into hell. Terrible thought? You bet.

Hell is mentioned 110 times in the Bible. Imagine. And in those days, they weren’t using that word in a sentence the way we so casually do. If you check a few Bible references, you will get the not surprising idea that hell was (is) a place of unending pain that is punishment for our sins that grievously offended God.

As a cloud is consumed, and passeth away: so he that shall go down to hell shall not come up.” ( Job 7:9) Not come up? Scary stuff.

“And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) He wasn’t talking Walking Dead or True Blood.

Probably the greatest description of hell was written by Dante in his “Inferno”, the first part of his 14th-century epic poem, Divine Comedy. It’s the telling of the journey of Dante through what is largely the medieval concept of Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth. Allegorically, the Divine Comedy represents the journey of the soul towards God, with the Inferno describing the recognition and rejection of sin.

The best selling book, “Heaven Is For Real”, got me to thinking about Hell. The book was written by a father whose 4 year old son claimed he traveled to heaven while in a coma. His descriptions are predictably warm and fuzzy. The enormous success of the book suggests to me that we hope and expect heaven and love to read anybody’s description, including, strangely, one by a four year old.

My favorite description of hell, however, was given by Saint Thomas Aquinas, the brilliant 13th century Catholic theologian who wrote that hell was the absence of God’s love. For anyone who has lost a loved one to death or separation, the pain of loss is sometimes unbearable. Pain on earth is temporary and ends with our death if not before. The pain in hell of losing God’s love is never ending.

Why am I talking about Hell as the holidays approach? Well, it’s my disgust with our culture. Turn on the TV, open a newspaper and see the fabric of our social mores fraying before your very eyes. Immorality is commonplace. And, maybe it’s me, but it seems that no one acts like there will be an accounting for their immoral behavior or they wouldn’t act the way they do.

While I’m no saint and I’m not screaming “ Repent, The End Is Near” but, hell is for real, too. And, that’s a helluva thought.

Oops.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Press 1 For Tolerance

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"("The New Colossus", Emma Lazarus)

How did we go from that welcome with open arms, engraved on a bronze plaque mounted inside the Statue of Liberty, to the hold-it-right-there request for proof of citizenship that may soon be heard in Alabama? Beats me. But, here we are.

Make no mistake. There was resentment felt by the immigrants who came here aboard those ships that sailed by the Statue of Liberty and into New York harbor. They had left their homelands to start a better life. They had no idea what to expect. And, despite the taunts and insults they heard, those “wretched refuse” were accepted and easily mixed with other nationalities in what was called a melting pot. Perhaps they were admired for their struggle. Perhaps.

But, the resentment today is just as bad and probably worse. It has resulted in the most punitive legislation in the United States. Even though the Constitution states immigration laws are the responsibility of the federal government, some states-notably Arizona and Alabama-are unhappy with the government’s slow progress and have passed their own laws. Without getting into specifics, the provisions of Alabama’s law border on, well, cruel and unusual. The law is so inhumane that an Episcopal, Methodist and a Roman Catholic bishop have sued to block it, saying it criminalizes acts of Christian compassion. Fortunately, enforcement has been partially blocked by a federal judge.

We have become a land where immigrant means illegal and illegal means welfare. And, that, in my view is why there is so much resentment. We see someone who doesn’t look like us or talk like us, buying food with stamps and we become angry. We conclude, unfairly, they’re lazy, don’t work and are taking advantage of our system and we resent it. The fact is because many can’t find minimum wage jobs, they are taking advantage of our system because they need to and that’s why the programs are there. It makes me wonder whether there would be resentment if these people were legal. Probably.

According to the Center for Immigration, the latest study shows 53% of all households headed by an immigrant (legal or illegal), with one or more children under 18, used at least one of America’s 8 major welfare programs compared to 36% of natives in same category. That means some of those folks shopping with stamps may be legal immigrants, or, perish the thought, American citizens. Like the bishops pointed out, we have abandoned our Christian compassion with the passage of this law. I have news. We lost our compassion long before the law. Seems to me.

Immigration reform is a complex issue. Unfortunately, the road to citizenship is paved with excessive paperwork, costs and time. The average immigrant, almost by definition, is uneducated and poor. Quite obviously, we need to streamline the system and our president is trying to do just that.

Perhaps if we stopped printing Spanish alongside all English on everything and everywhere it seems, because it’s unfair to all other foreign speaking immigrants, not to mention counter-productive to their learning our language, then, perhaps there might be more compassion for these people seeking a better life.

In the meantime, let’s love our neighbor as ourselves and, well, “press 1 for tolerance”.

Otherwise, we’ll have to throw a sheet over the Statue of Liberty.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

“Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That”

In a classic episode from his program in the 90’s, Jerry Seinfeld pretended to be gay. When his pretense was revealed, he said the now famous line, “I’m not gay!....Not that there’s anything wrong with that! ”.No, there isn’t. But, if you’re gay and want to marry another gay of the same sex, well…

Consider what happened in New York State, the 6th state to legalize gay marriage.

Gays feel they have the right to marry. Ah, the right. We seem to have a “right” to everything these days. Claiming a right conjures up the Bill of Rights and gives it the patina of an untouchable privilege. But, I think there is a difference between a “right” and “permission”. If the gun lobby, for example, would claim they should be permitted to own a gun just as we are allowed to own a car, the revolvers would probably be put back in their holsters and the gunfight would end. I’m just sayin’.

However, when we speak of the right of gay marriage, we’re not only speaking about a loving, long-term, committed relationship, we’re also usually talking about the physical sex that expresses that love. Otherwise, we’re simply talking about roommates. We must assume the “marriage” that gays seek is more than two roommates seeking equality under the law for all the benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples since those benefits are readily available to them with civil unions in many states.

So, why do gays want their relationships called “marriages”? Could it be gays are looking for the “Seal of Good Housekeeping” or, more relevantly, an Imprimatur? They long suffered in the closet, came out and were welcomed by a different society and now want our blessing on their lifestyle. And that is why Christians, mainly, are opposed to granting them that “right ”.

Why? Well, first, it is important to distinguish between beinghomosexual and acting on that condition by engaging in sex with someone of the same gender.

Christian beliefs state that people with homosexual tendencies are to be embraced but homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered ”-contrary to the natural law-and close the sexual act to the gift of life. That’s key to understanding why there is opposition to these “marriages”. Natural law or the law of nature means natural is that which operates according to its nature.

Which brings me to the human reproductive or sex organs. You might say they were made for each other. Literally. There is a certain beauty, an elegance, in these reproductive organs. The operative word, of course, is “reproductive”. Even if you did not believe in God the Creator, you must marvel at the complexity of how women produce human eggs and men produce the seeds that fertilize those eggs and give them life. To reproduce the species is their purpose. It is theirnature. That does not mean that every sex act must result in childbirth. It doesn’t always, but, that’s not germane. Sex between same sex partners is, therefore, unnatural.

Gays point to their many long-term commitments and argue that almost 50% of traditional marriages end in divorce. However, to recognize that commitment of gay relationships as a reason to call them "marriages " is to reveal a frightfully poor understanding of marriage.

Christians believe marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman by which they establish between themselves a partnership for life that, by its very nature-there’s that word again-operates toward the procreation of offspring.

So, let me be clear. Christians oppose gay “marriages” not because they threaten “traditional marriages”. No, Christians oppose the sanctioning of gay relationships as “marriages” because acceptance would be tacit approval of the unnatural sex that is presumably present in those relationships.

That’s strong stuff, granted, and is probably why it’s left unsaid.

So, there can be “something wrong with that ”.

Sorry, Jerry.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Laughter

If there was ever a time when we needed to laugh, it is now. Besides the shocking news of scandalous behavior of politicians, the stagnant economy, the unemployment, the endless wars, the drug disease infecting our city, we have the painful reminders of the April tornado to darken our mood.

As I drive around and see the brutal evidence of that tornado that huffed and puffed and blew some of our houses down, I get depressed.

Gone are the trees that were like canopies covering the roads, giving us welcome shade,filtering the heavy rains. Some trees, barely alive, are stark naked, stripped of their leaves, hunched over with broken and blackened branches, appearing helpless and sad. Others lie dead with huge clumps of soil and worm-like roots still attached, looking as if they were yanked out of the ground by a giant hand, waiting to be cut into small pieces and taken to God knows where. Beautiful and historic homes, buildings with familiar and popular businesses, houses of worship luckily empty, all appear to have been stepped on and crushed by some giant foot.

We need something to ease the pain. Laughter. Laughter is the lubricant that helps us roll with the punches, bear our burdens, lift our spirits, go with the flow.

Laughter is defined as a reaction to certain stimuli which serves as an emotional balancing mechanism. It's considered a visual expression of happiness, or an inward feeling of joy. It may happen after hearing a joke, being tickled, or reading a cartoon. Researchers have shown infants as early as 17 days old have vocal laughing sounds or laughter.

There is a link between laughter and healthy function of blood vessels. It was found that laughter causes the dilation of their inner lining and increases blood flow. Freud theorized that laughter releases tension and psychic energy. His theory is one of the justifications of the beliefs that laughter is beneficial for one's health and explains why laughter can used be as a coping mechanism when one is upset, angry or sad.

And so, since I suspect many if not all of us are upset, angry and/or sad, I think we should begin to laugh more. I’m not suggesting everybody is wearing an upside down smiley face. It’s just that I don’t hear much laughter lately. Yes, surely there was laughter at the recent Celebrate Cullman event and that was a good start to the healing process for our town.

The story is told of the game warden who stopped a redneck carrying some fish as he got out of his rowboat. “No fishing allowed”, said the warden. “ I ain’t fishin”, said the redneck, “I’m trainin’ my fish by letting them swim free for a while every day. Here, let me show ya” and he threw the fish back into the lake. The warden was not convinced and told him to hand over the fish. The redneck said, “What fish?”

Okay, I hope I made you laugh. Now it’s your turn. Make someone laugh today.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

“Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That”

In a classic episode from his program in the 90’s, Jerry Seinfeld pretended to be gay. When his pretense was revealed, he said the now famous line, “I’m not gay!....Not that there’s anything wrong with that! ”.No, there isn’t. But, if you’re gay and want to marry another gay of the same sex, well…

Consider what happened in New York State, the 6th state to legalize gay marriage.

Gays feel they have the right to marry. Ah, the right. We seem to have a “right” to everything these days. Claiming a right conjures up the Bill of Rights and gives it the patina of an untouchable privilege. But, I think there is a difference between a “right” and “permission”. If the gun lobby, for example, would claim they should be permitted to own a gun just as we are allowed to own a car, the revolvers would probably be put back in their holsters and the gunfight would end. I’m just sayin’.

However, when we speak of the right of gay marriage, we’re not only speaking about a loving, long-term, committed relationship, we’re also usually talking about the physical sex that expresses that love. Otherwise, we’re simply talking about roommates. We must assume the “marriage” that gays seek is more than two roommates seeking equality under the law for all the benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples since those benefits are readily available to them with civil unions in many states.

So, why do gays want their relationships called “marriages”? Could it be gays are looking for the “Seal of Good Housekeeping” or, more relevantly, an Imprimatur? They long suffered in the closet, came out and were welcomed by a different society and now want our blessing on their lifestyle. And that is why Christians, mainly, are opposed to granting them that “ right ”.
Why? Well, first, it is important to distinguish between beinghomosexual and acting on that condition by engaging in sex with someone of the same gender.

Christian beliefs state that people with homosexual tendencies are to be embraced but homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered ”-contrary to the natural law-and close the sexual act to the gift of life. That’s key to understanding why there is opposition to these “marriages”. Natural law or the law of nature means natural is that which operates according to its nature.

Which brings me to the human reproductive or sex organs. You might say they were made for each other. Literally. There is a certain beauty, an elegance, in these reproductive organs. The operative word, of course, is “reproductive”. Even if you did not believe in God the Creator, you must marvel at the complexity of how women produce human eggs and men produce the seeds that fertilize those eggs and give them life. To reproduce the species is their purpose. It is theirnature. That does not mean that every sex act must result in childbirth. It doesn’t always, but, that’s not germane. Sex between same sex partners is, therefore, unnatural.

Gays point to their many long-term commitments and argue that almost 50% of traditional marriages end in divorce. However, to recognize that commitment of gay relationships as a reason to call them "marriages " is to reveal a frightfully poor understanding of marriage.

Christians believe marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman by which they establish between themselves a partnership for life that, by its very nature-there’s that word again-operates toward the procreation of offspring.

So, let me be clear. Christians oppose gay “marriages” not because they threaten “traditional marriages”. No, Christians oppose the sanctioning of gay relationships as “marriages” because acceptance would be tacit approval of the unnatural sex that is presumably present in those relationships.

That’s strong stuff, granted, and is probably why it’s left unsaid.

So, there can be “something wrong with that ”.

Sorry, Jerry.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Once More With Feeling

It was frightening. Hunkered down in an inside hallway and hearing the constant wind and looking into the pitch black darkness made me think, “He will come like a thief in the night. You will know neither the hour nor the day.”

Well, we knew the day and around what time, but He didn’t come like a thief in the night. Too noisy. And once again we’re asking “why?” Why are we getting battered with so many disasters? Cullman got assaulted by fierce tornados. Two dead. Hundreds injured. Devastation everywhere. So, why? I believe God noisily blew through Cullman to get our attention once more and, to do that, He did it this time with feeling: the howling and destructive wind of an F4 tornado.

As I’ve often said, I believe these are ‘blessings in disguise’, opportunities to come together. Compassion usually follows chaos. What happened in our town after the storm was unbelievable. The Red Cross, not to mention virtually all the local churches, sprang into action, offering food and shelter. Everyone cared for everyone. I’ll never forget it.

But, I’ve also said I believe these disasters are messages to ‘get our act together’. God is sending us more and more tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires and whatever, because, apparently, the blessing idea is not enough. We’re not getting the message. We’re not listening to His voice in the endless wind and the pounding rain. We’re not seeing His anger in the uprooted trees, the smashed homes, the lives He chose to end. Even though this should tell us how everything is here one moment and gone the next, many of us still don’t ‘get it’. We come together, fix whatever’s broken and go our old merry, sinful way. Seems to me.

This time, the loss of lights, TV, internet access and hot water, for heaven’s sake, would seem to be another way the Lord is trying to get our attention. We take so much for granted in our lives. We don’t appreciate all of our conveniences until they’re taken away.

As a matter of fact, when the power was out, how many times did you flip the switch when you went into the darkened bathroom? (Yeah, just as I thought.) The simple act of turning on a light should remind us every time that our lives are dependent on a Supreme Being. He’s the One Who flipped on the switch when we were born. The simple act of breathing is the light in our lives that could easily be flipped off anytime.

So, let us pray for those who lost everything. Even though our God might be angry, we have a God who is giving us a warning. That tells me He’s fair and He loves us. He really wants us to enjoy what He has planned for us. He could just as easily come like that thief in the night without a warning.

Perhaps we should think of that every time we enter our bathroom and, well, flip the switch.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Rising is the Reason

Like the frantic shopping for gifts at Christmas, the fun-filled coloring of eggs at Easter tends to obscure the real meaning of the feast.

It will probably be eye-opening for many that the word “Easter” has its roots in paganism. That’s hard to believe but true. And, strangely, the term is never used in the original Scriptures. So, a little history:

Most scholars agree that the term derived from “Eastre”, the Teutonic goddess of spring, originating during the building of the tower of Babel and not long after the biblical Flood. Profane and idolatrous practices were commonplace at the time. When the people, speaking in different languages that they believed was God’s punishment for their sinful ways, were scattered around the earth, one of the names given to one of their false gods was Ishtar ( pronounced “Easter”).Other names were “Eoster”,”Astarte”, “Ostera” and “Eastre”. She was the Mother Goddess of fertility and spring.

Since the rabbit was well known for its fertility, worshipping the rabbit as the reincarnation of the goddess was an easy leap ( no pun intended). And the Easter bunny was born. As for the egg, in almost all ancient cultures, eggs had been held as an emblem of new life. Rabbits were known to lay their eggs in the grass, giving rise to the egg hunts. Why we color them besides making them more festive is anybody’s guess.

When the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity, the pagan holiday, which occurred around the same time as the Christian memorial of Jesus' Resurrection, was combined with the Christian celebration and given the name Easter. What a coincidence that Christmas is celebrated around the time of Saturnalia, the harvest feast, another pagan holiday. Thank the Lord we didn’t change the name of Christmas.

Originally, because of this coincidence of dates, there were some pagan practices performed with the Christian celebrations of Easter. And, unwittingly, in a way, we’re still doing it. Today, Easter is often commercialized, with all the focus on eggs, the Easter bunny, and dressing in fine, new clothes. Witness the egg-rolling on the White House lawn on the day Christ rose from the dead. Because of this, many churches are starting to refer to Easter as Resurrection Day or the Feast of the Resurrection.

It’s too bad that Christians have “Christianized” pagan celebrations. The good news is that while we are aware the term is still used, we realize we are not celebrating the pagan goddess, but, rather, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There are those who feel this distraction of eggs and bunnies is the work of the devil. Who are we to argue? It would be wonderful if we just concentrated only on the remarkable miracle of the Resurrection that is the foundation of our belief. Let’s not worry about what we call this momentous event, but, simply, thank God it happened.
So, sorry kids. Not only is there no Santa Claus, there is no Easter bunny.

There is, however, the Risen Savior.

Alleluia.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wake Up Calls

Like a siren before a tornado, a smoke alarm before a fire, natural disasters could be wake-up calls before something even more serious. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan that caused a potentially apocalyptic event at their nuclear facilities should get us to thinking that the end of everything is a reality. This is not meant to sound like the crazy guy on the street corner carrying a cardboard sign warning that the end of the world is near. But, maybe these tragedies are sending us the same messages and should get us thinking about heaven and hell, the destinations determined by our moral behavior. Despite the warm and fuzzy presumptions that I read in daily obituaries, when we die we are not guaranteed that we will be “in the arms of our dear Lord ”. Based on my observations, heaven won’t be too crowded, but hell will be packed to overflowing. Why weather as a means to warn about the end? Well, weather is not man made-excuse me, human-made. Who, then? Evolutionists say it “happens”. Ridiculous. Every effect has a cause. As Saint Thomas Aquinas, the brilliant Catholic theologian of the 13th century, argued in his “Summa Theologica”, there must eventually be a First Cause which is not the effect of anything. “Creationists”, the presumably affectionate term for Christians, believe weather is caused by God. It’s easy to see God in the soft, white fluffy clouds, the warm sun, the fresh rains, the gentle breezes. But, many also see Him in just everyday crappy weather the likes of which we’ve been having around here lately. But, why would God cause bad weather? Theories abound. I have always felt, after witnessing how we come together after tragedies, seeing compassion follow chaos, that these disasters were “blessings in disguise” (I wrote about it in this very space three years ago). God is supremely good and would only permit the evil of disaster to occur or to exist in His works because He knows that good can be derived from evil. But, I strongly believe He is not punishing us but using these disasters to wake us up out of our wayward behavior. And, if anyone doesn’t believe we need waking up, they have only to turn on the TV, go to the movies, pick up a newspaper, check the texts, tweets that bombard us daily and witness the slow, but discernible fraying of our moral fabric. Now, after so many natural tragedies such as the Katrina hurricane, Haiti earthquake, Indonesia tsunami and now the combination in Japan, I think God is again sending us a message-yeah, in a punishing way-to get our act together, straighten up and fly right, smarten up, get with it, however you want to put it. In the Scriptures, we read more than once,“ Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour”. (Matthew 25:13 ) Outright warnings. It’s just possible these disasters are warnings in disguise. They might be His sirens, His smoke alarms.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Blind Faith

Everyday we accept things on blind faith. Television ratings, polls, research findings, results of studies, you name it, are almost everywhere we see, hear or read and are accepted as gospel truth.

Yet, many do not accept the Gospel as truth. Disturbing.

Consider Nielsen, Gallup and Pew Research, three major, well accepted, hardly ever challenged services that are quoted all the time.

Gallup, the oldest and mother of all survey companies, is most known for its voter polls. Pew Research measures everything from political preferences to religious behavior. And Nielsen is the only television rating service used by advertisers and stations alike. Trust me, as a former salesman of TV time, they swear by them.

All of them depend on, or should I say, raise to the level of divine revelation, the principle that “a randomly selected, small percentage of a population of people can represent opinions of all if the sample is selected correctly.” It’s called the “Probability Sample ”. That’s their answer to those who ask “how can the opinions or answers of as few as 1,000 people be projected against 300 million people?”

So, why isn’t the gospel always and everywhere accepted as truth? It’s challenged certainly more than a TV rating, a poll or a study.

It’s not my intention nor can I arrogantly assume to discuss the authenticity of Sacred Scripture in so short a space. But, let’s consider just one example of revealed truth in the Old Testament that is a major cause of discussion today: the creation of the world. Those of us who accept the Scriptures-certainly, all Christians-are labeled “Creationists”. (“Well, isn’t that special”, as the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live used to say.)

In Genesis (1-11 ), the description of God’s creating our world is clear and unmistakable. This first book of the Old Testament, like all the others of the entire Bible, was inspired by God. That’s tough for non-believers to accept, many of whom, however, have no problem believing 110 million people watched the Super Bowl. A football game is not as important as the Bible, they may claim, without addressing the issue of accuracy of either.

Let’s take one more example, and this time from the New Testament, the Resurrection of Jesus. That extraordinary miracle proved He was (is) God. The story was reported by St. Paul in his Letters, by Saint Matthew and in the Acts of the Apostles. It is the foundation of the Christian faith. Yet, there are and have been those who contest even that remarkable event. When was the last time you heard or read a lively discussion of the accuracy of television ratings?

While I don’t wish to disparage the ratings or surveys, I simply hope that more of us accept the word of God as revealed in the Bible as we accept those numbers and opinions.

Faith in God’s word as revealed in the Bible is not blind. It is, so to speak, seeing by believing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Raising Cain

“And Cain said to Abel his brother: Let us go forth abroad. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and slew him.” ( Genesis 4: 8 )

That was the world’s first homicide. Incredibly, we are still killing. Witness the violence in the world continuing with the massacre in Tucson, Arizona. In fact, just since the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, there have been one million murders in America that are not about to stop any time soon. Worse, we live in an age of instant communication that makes the stories of violence seem so pervasive.

Is it any wonder then, that murder and mayhem are becoming part of our everyday lives and the news of the day? What is wrong with us? We need to be the best, first, on ‘ top of the heap’. Anyone who gets in our way is run over, sometimes literally. Ours is fanatically competitive a nation of “We’re Number One!” which seems to have replaced our motto “In God We Trust ”. Whatever happened to the Commandment to love one another? While we do display an outpouring of emotion when someone is tragically killed, it is after someone is taken from us. Too much, too late.

The adversarial atmosphere in our politics is being blamed for this latest episode of violence in Arizona. That’s simplistic. In my view, the divisive behavior in politics is a form not the cause of violence. Some take the lives of people with guns, others injure the reputations of people with words. While guns are too easily accessible, that young man would have found another way to kill.

We live in a country whose moral fabric is so frayed it is almost unrecognizable. We think nothing of killing embryos, fetuses, convicted felons because, unbelievably, we have made all of it legal. We have become like the ancient Romans who gave a thumbs up or thumbs down to a life in the balance. If we loved one another, we would never have allowed any killing. But we do because we can and, in each of those mentioned examples, it benefits us. We need the miracle drug, don’t want the baby and/or seek revenge for the crime.

There is corruption in business, sports and, I'm sad to say, in religion, as well. Turn on the television and get assaulted by greed and immorality in commercials and programming. A day doesn't go by without another blockbuster story, such as pyramid schemes in the stock market or the use of steroids in baseball. As a Catholic, I am enormously embarrassed by the sex abuse scandal in the priesthood.

As hopelessly na├»ve as it may sound, until and unless we tone down our words, put down our weapons and ‘get down’ with love, we will continue to "go forth abroad " with our “brother” to slay him.

Unlike Cain who was jealous of Abel, we must realize that we are our brother’s keeper.