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Do You Remember the Christmas Story?

Sunday, December 25, 2016, 00:05 EDT Leave a comment

This is a repeat of a post I’ve put up in many past years, though not the last two. It warrants bringing back. Merry Christmas to all.

StarIn those days, Caesar Augustus published a decree ordering a census of the whole Roman world. This first census took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All the people were instructed to go back to the towns of their birth to register. And so Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to “the city of David” — Bethlehem, in Judea, because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David; he went to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her delivery. She gave birth to her firstborn, a son; she put him in a simple cloth wrapped like a receiving blanket, and laid him in a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no room for them at the inn.

There were shepherds in the area living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flock. The angel of God appeared to them, and the glory of God shone around them; they were very much afraid.

The angel said to them, “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you—news of a great joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in David’s city, a savior—the Messiah—has been born to you. Let this be a sign to you; you’ll find an infant wrapped in a simple cloth, lying in a manger.

Suddenly, there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in high heaven!
And on earth, peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this event that God has made known to us.” They hurried and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; once they saw this, they reported what they had been told concerning the child. All who heard about it were astonished at the report given by the shepherds.

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart. The shepherds went away glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.

— Luke 2: 1-20

(Excerpted from The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, Priests for Equality)

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Categories: faith/religion

Art Imitates Life (Plus Some Religion)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016, 15:12 EDT Leave a comment

Being cheap—and, at the moment, broke—I don’t have television service. That’s no cable, no satellite. The only things I really miss watching are the local sports teams, but I can get those on the radio. Still, it’s nice to watch a movie or program occasionally, and for that reason I compromised and sprung for an $8/month subscription to Hulu.

The nice thing about Hulu is that it isn’t just a site where you can stream, at your convenience, programs other people watch on television. It has its own original programming as well, some of which is quite good. I’m currently watching a Hulu original series called Casual, about a woman in the process of getting a divorce who temporarily moves, with her teenaged daughter, into her brother’s house. The story follows the three of them as they navigate the various relationships (I use the term loosely) arising from each character’s pursuit of casual sex. What’s interesting is that for three people who are getting the no-strings-attached sex they actively seek, they are remarkably miserable

All of which has me thinking about Catholic teaching on sexuality, something about which I’m preparing to lead discussion as part of an adult faith formation program I coordinate at my church. Even people with absolutely no connection to the Catholic church know that its teachings prohibit pre-marital, extra-marital, or same-sex sex. (Yeah, I spent five minutes trying to figure out how to say that last one in a less redundant way but came up empty. Sorry.)

The teaching goes basically like this: the purpose of sexuality is that it be shared between two people who are joined in marriage, for the purposes of uniting them to one another and producing children. As someone who has had sex and given birth without being married, I often questioned why the marriage part was a requirement.

More recently, I have come to some understanding of that teaching, from two perspectives: practical and emotional. My pregnancy was the result of a relationship that wasn’t in any way serious or committed. I ended up raising my child alone, a difficult task materially speaking. On the other hand, when I had sex for love (with someone different), it was indeed unifying. But that relationship ended, and in three decades I still haven’t gotten over it. I wonder if it would have been easier to move on if we had never shared those sexual experiences that seemed to cement the emotional connection between us. For the record, I also had a wild phase when I sought sex for fun, but it wasn’t remotely fulfilling and didn’t make me feel very good about myself. I don’t do that any more.

Maybe that’s the wisdom of Catholic teaching. As much as we may want to believe otherwise, sex is profoundly different from other human interactions. For people who don’t take it seriously, like the characters in Casual, it can be unsatisfying at best and hurtful at worst.

Happy September. The World Is Coming Apart.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014, 13:25 EDT Leave a comment

Geez, I leave you people alone for not even five months, and all hell breaks loose. Clearly my presence is needed. Not to mention my commentary about it all.

Ukraine

For those who don’t know anything about Vladimir Putin, let me clue you in: He’s an old Soviet KGB guy who masturbates to a picture of Stalin. OK, I don’t actually know about that last part, though I wouldn’t be surprised. I do know that he is philosophically much closer to most leaders of the former Soviet Union—save Gorbachev—than any Russian leader since the collapse of the old communist empire.

Thus, no one should be surprised that he has invaded what in his dreams is still called the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Sure, he insists that it isn’t really an invasion, just the action of unaffiliated rebels, because he is counting on the rest of the world not noticing that those rebels are all wearing Russian military uniforms and driving Russian military vehicles and packing Russian military-issue heat. Indeed, the only thing that should surprise anyone is that it took him this long. Make no mistake, Vlad has designs on Ukraine—and several other nations.

ISIS/ISIL

Take your pick on which name to use. You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. In fact, you can call it Al Qaeda or Hezbollah or Black September for all I care. It’s yet another Islamic terrorist group with an odd affinity for killing people who don’t toe their religious/political line. Remember after the September 11 attacks, when George W. Bush and assorted celebrities tied themselves in knots to assure Muslims that we weren’t at war against Islam? It turns out that Islam, or at least a segment of it that enjoys a disturbing amount of support from Muslims around the world, was at war against us, and still is. ISIS has vowed to destroy the United States and fly their flag over the White House. All I can say to that is, over my dead body, and I mean that literally.

One aspect of the news coverage that bothers me is all the attention given to the beheadings of two American journalists. Not that those weren’t awful, but ISIS has been doing this for months, and many of their victims have been Christians, particularly children. I’ve seen a fair amount of coverage in the alternative media and a few conservative news sites, but the mainstream media has been more lax—until their own were the targets.

Ferguson, Missouri

If media outlets give disproportionate coverage to journalists killed by terrorists, they also give disproportionate coverage to black men killed by police. Again, it isn’t that such cases shouldn’t be investigated; I’ve seen and heard enough about over-zealous cops on power trips to appreciate the possibility that the shooting of an unarmed civilian is indeed unwarranted. And in the interest of full disclosure, I was one of the people who jumped on the bandwagon denouncing the shooting death of Michael Brown in Missouri. But as is the case so often, it turns out that initial reports—and my initial reaction—might not have been entirely accurate.

I consider heavy-handedness by law enforcement to be a significant threat to liberty. At the same time, it isn’t heavy-handed for an officer who believes he or she is in danger to exercise self-defense, which is the right of civilians as well. Let’s just say that I am no longer convinced that the Ferguson officer didn’t have a legitimate reason to feel threatened. Besides, if the killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer is by definition a big news story, then the killing of an unarmed white man by a black police officer (yes, it happens more than you would think) should be as well. That there is disparate treatment says more about the racist attitudes of the media and many observers than about alleged racism by police.

Rape culture

It isn’t a new idea, but the neo-feminist insistence of societal misogyny so pervasive as to indicate the widespread cultural acceptance of rape is getting a lot more attention lately. It’s bullshit. Seriously, if encouraging women to take simple steps to keep themselves safe is sexist—and the reasoning (I use the term loosely) goes that men shouldn’t rape, so women shouldn’t have to protect themselves from it, and suggesting they do is akin to blaming the victim—then it isn’t just rape that our society supposedly accepts.

I have a home security system because my house was broken into a couple of years ago and I don’t want it to happen again. But really, it wasn’t my fault that I was robbed; I should be able to feel secure in my own home. So what if I refused, as a protest against “theft culture,” even to lock my doors and windows? Or what if I failed to safeguard my personal information—social security number, online passwords, credit card numbers, and the like—as a protest against identity thieves and a statement of empowerment? I would be out of my mind, that’s what. Because in the real world in which I live, there are those who break into houses, steal people’s identities, and yes, even rape women. I can stomp my feet and bitch about it, or I can be a grown-up and protect myself against it.

And having thus vented, I feel better now. I’ll be back soon with more of the insightful opinions you have come to expect from me and have, no doubt, missed terribly.

The Christmas Story

Wednesday, December 25, 2013, 00:28 EDT Leave a comment

The following is a post I have published here and elsewhere many times in the past. It is timeless. Merry Christmas to all.

StarIn those days, Caesar Augustus published a decree ordering a census of the whole Roman world. This first census took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All the people were instructed to go back to the towns of their birth to register. And so Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to “the city of David” — Bethlehem, in Judea, because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David; he went to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her delivery. She gave birth to her firstborn, a son; she put him in a simple cloth wrapped like a receiving blanket, and laid him in a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no room for them at the inn.

There were shepherds in the area living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flock. The angel of God appeared to them, and the glory of God shone around them; they were very much afraid.

The angel said to them, “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you—news of a great joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in David’s city, a savior—the Messiah—has been born to you. Let this be a sign to you; you’ll find an infant wrapped in a simple cloth, lying in a manger.

Suddenly, there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in high heaven!
And on earth, peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this event that God has made known to us.” They hurried and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; once they saw this, they reported what they had been told concerning the child. All who heard about it were astonished at the report given by the shepherds.

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart. The shepherds went away glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.

— Luke 2: 1-20
(Excerpted from The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, Priests for Equality)

Categories: christmas, faith/religion

Solemn Observances

Thursday, April 5, 2012, 18:32 EDT Leave a comment

Today is Holy Thursday for western Christianity. Thus begins the most solemn period on the church calendar.

Holy Thursday, called Maundy Thursday in the Eastern Orthodox church, commemorates the Last Supper, the Passover seder Jesus shared with his closest followers shared the day before he was crucified. (Coincidentally this year, it just precedes the Jewish observance of Passover, which begins tomorrow evening.) Good Friday, tomorrow, commemorates the crucifixion and death af Jesus. The Easter liturgies of the Saturday vigil and all Sunday liturgies celebrate the resurrection. So in the span of just a few days, we go from remembering the lowest time in Jesus’ life to the highest, a sort of theological roller coaster.

I admit to having been less than disciplined during this Lenten season. I didn’t give up anything, didn’t go to extra masses (and even missed Sundays on occasion), and wasn’t even especially careful about meatless Fridays. I do more some years than others. But Holy Thursday always focuses me on what I call the home stretch to Easter. Like the story of the workers in the vineyard who all got the same wages no matter what time of day they showed up, I figure God will cut me some slack for being a little late.

This day also reminds me of the death of my the man I think of as my former future father-in-law, who died on Holy Thursday 28 years ago. I suspect that God doesn’t mind that, either.

Categories: faith/religion, remember

To All You Lovers Out There

Tuesday, February 14, 2012, 07:00 EDT Leave a comment

Heart cookiesHappy Valentine’s Day. I hope those of you who have someone special with whom to celebrate enjoy yourselves. I can count on one hand the number of Valentine’s Days for which I’ve had a boyfriend, so it’s just another day for me, working all day and then doing nothing unusual at home this evening. Maybe I’ll pop in a DVD. Or wash my kitchen floor. Or something.

In 21st century culture, Valentine’s Day, at least as celebrated in North America, is a hyper-commercialized excuse for florists, greeting card companies, and chocolatiers to make a buck. But it’s also a good opportunity for people in love to remind each other of their feelings, which they can do sincerely at little or no cost. I have done so for the Love of My Life here, for his eyes only.

For the rest of you, I’m happy to provide a (very) little historical background, because I consider it my solemn duty as a blogger to edify my audience every so often. Saint Valentine was a third century Roman priest who, tradition states, aided jailed martyrs and was subsequently himself martyred for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. How he came to be associated with romantic couples is not certain, but the pairing of love and martyrdom gives new meaning to the phrase “I love you to death,” doesn’t it?

Categories: faith/religion, holidays, love

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 25, 2011, 01:02 EDT Leave a comment

StarIn those days, Caesar Augustus published a decree ordering a census of the whole Roman world. This first census took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All the people were instructed to go back to the towns of their birth to register. And so Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to “the city of David” — Bethlehem, in Judea, because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David; he went to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her delivery. She gave birth to her firstborn, a son; she put him in a simple cloth wrapped like a receiving blanket, and laid him in a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no room for them at the inn.

There were shepherds in the area living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flock. The angel of God appeared to them, and the glory of God shone around them; they were very much afraid.

The angel said to them, “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you—news of a great joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in David’s city, a savior—the Messiah—has been born to you. Let this be a sign to you; you’ll find an infant wrapped in a simple cloth, lying in a manger.

Suddenly, there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in high heaven!
And on earth, peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this event that God has made known to us.” They hurried and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; once they saw this, they reported what they had been told concerning the child. All who heard about it were astonished at the report given by the shepherds.

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart. The shepherds went away glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.

— Luke 2: 1-20
(Excerpted from The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, Priests for Equality)

Categories: christmas, faith/religion

Plodding through Life

Sunday, August 7, 2011, 21:52 EDT Leave a comment

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” The woman had a sense of humor, which should be a prerequisite for any job that involves taking care of the very poorest of the world’s poor.

Sometimes, life’s trials are more personal. After folk legend Woody Guthrie found out he had Huntington’s Chorea, the fatal genetic disorder that ended his life at age 55, he wrote what he imagined God might say to someone who faced such tribulations. What he imagined doesn’t begin to answer the question most people in crisis ask—Why?—but it reaches the same conclusion that Mother Teresa did: life might suck, but God is there nonetheless.

I didn’t promise you skies painted blue
Nor all colored flowers all your days through
I didn’t promise you sun with no rain
Joys without sorrows, peace without pain

All that I promise is strength for this day
Rest for my worker, and light on your way
I give you truth when you need it, my help from above
Undying friendship, my unfailing love

I never did promise you crowns without trials
Food with no hard sweat, your tears without smiles
Hot sunny days without cold wintry snows
No vict’ry without fightin’, no laughs without woes

All that I promise is strength for this day
Rest for my worker, my light on your way
I give you truth when you need it, my help from above
Undying friendship, my unfailing love

I sure didn’t say I’d give you heaven on earth
A life with no labor, no struggles, no deaths
No earthquakes, no dryspells, no fire flames, no droughts
No slaving, no hungers, no blizzards, no blights

All that I promise is strength for this day
Rest for my worker, my light on your way
I give you truth when you need it, my help from above
Undying friendship, my unfailing love

I promise you power, this minute this hour
The power you need when you fall down to bleed
I give you my peace, and my strength to pull home
My love for all races all creeds and all kinds

My flavors, my saviors, my creeds of all kinds
My love for my saviors, all colors, all kinds
My love for my races, all creeders, all kinds
My saviors, my flavors, my dancers all kinds
My dancers, my prancers, my singers all kinds
My flavors, my saviors, my dancers all kinds.

Decades after Guthrie’s death, contemporary folk artist Ellis Paul wrote music for these lyrics and recorded the song. Here’s a YouTube video clip from an episode of my friend Monica’s television series, Mostly Rock n Roll, in which Ellis talks about the song and then performs it at a coffeehouse in Franklin, Massachusetts. (I was the camera operator for the interview.)

Categories: faith/religion, life, music

Friday Funny

Friday, August 5, 2011, 11:23 EDT 1 comment

Bubba was a southern Baptist living in a neighborhood full of Catholics. Each Friday night after work, Bubba would fire up his outdoor grill and cook a venison steak. It didn’t bother his neighbors except during Lent, when they were forbidden from eating meat on Fridays. The delicious aroma caused such a problem for the Catholics that they finally talked to their priest.

The priest came to visit Bubba and suggested that he become a Catholic. After several classes and much study, Bubba attended Mass for the first time. The priest sprinkled holy water over him, sauying, “You were born a Baptist, you were raised a Baptist, but now you are a Catholic.”

Bubba’s neighbors were relieved—until Friday night arrived and the wonderful aroma of grilled venison again filled the neighborhood.

They immediately called the priest, who rushed into Bubba’s yard, clutching a rosary and prepared to scold Bubba. But he stopped suddenly and watched in amazement.

There stood Bubba, holding a small bottle of holy water which he carefully sprinkled over the meat and chanted, “You wuz born a deer, you wuz raised a deer, but now you is a catfish.”

The Wheels on the Bus Go ‘Round and ‘Round

Friday, May 20, 2011, 08:41 EDT Leave a comment

(UPDATE: Added a links and categories.)

Good morning, readers, and welcome to my morning commute, courtesy of the WordPress app on my BlackBerry, not to mention the nice people at the WRTA and the taxpayers who subsidize it. I’m back on the bus because, you know, gasoline isn’t getting any cheaper.

The 55 minute ride gives me an opportunity to share my morning stream of consciousness, which today consists of the following:

  • How about those Bruins? God help me, every game, I believe a little bit more. Do you think that if they win it all, they’ll do a statewide Cup Tour the way the Sox did a Trophy Tour in ’04 and ’07? I realize we haven’t waited four generations since the last Bruins’ Stanley Cup, but sometimes it feels that way. Oh, and Tim Thomas? God, with a lower-case “g.”
  • This May 21 apocalypse thing is a great big pile of dung. How do I know? I read my bible, where it says right there in Matthew 24:36, “But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.” You can look it up. So anyone who claims to know isn’t just wrong, he/she is also purporting to know something even Jesus doesn’t know. Where I come from, that’s blasphemy. Thus concludes today’s sermon by the Reverend Den Mother.
  • I really need some good weather. It’s been cool and drizzly since last weekend. My fear is that we’re in for another quasi-spring-followed-by-lousy-summer like we had last year.
  • My potted parsley and basil are growing like crazy! Next week I’ll separate them and give some to my mother, thereby cementing my status as Favorite Offspring. There’s nothing like fresh sweet basil to win over an Italian woman.

Wow, time flies when you’re having fun, or when you’re trying to type an entire blog post on a keyboard smaller than a business card. I’m almost at my destination, plus I’m getting a tad motion sick, so it’s time to sign off. Happy Friday.