Monday, September 15, 2014

The Power of Quitting

I recently attended a two day retreat for team building and leadership. One of the activities of the retreat was a "Great Race" event. During this event, four teams competed in five events, with the winning team finishing first. Three of the five events were fun: assembling a puzzle, solving riddles, and a scavenger hunt.

Two of the events involved eating food that was not part of our everyday diets--foods that let's just say would make us squeemish at best or cause us the physical discomfort of vomiting at worst. In addition, the quantity of these foods was large. We were not only supposed to eat the foul-tasting stuff, we had to eat a lot of it. AND much of the food was prepared with lots of salt. Another group was supposed to consume a large quantity of sugary candy.

My team, troopers that we were, complied. We ate; we retched; and we suffered the discomforts of this event, both during and after. At the end, when the prize was being handed out (we were second, no prize--first prize was a silly statue), we were praised for our perseverance.

After I got home, I reflected on this experience. As probably the oldest in the group, I DO understand that I might be accused of being a fuddy-duddy with the explanation that these eating events were all in fun. Yet, I am a bit ashamed that I just didn't stand up and LEAD MY TEAM by saying, "No I won't make myself sick or eat things that are bad for me just to win a race."

Leadership is important, and often requires sacrifice and pain. It also requires standing up for the stupid things you are asked to do that serve no purpose. While I MAY have exhibited some small level of leadership and teamwork by going along and eating things that could have made me physically ill, I missed an even bigger opportunity to show leadership and teamwork by saying, "Hey, I appreciate all the thought that went into this event, but I politely decline to participate because I'm being asked to do something that is physically painful, possibly dangerous, not in my best interest, and serves no higher purpose than winning a race. I encourage you, the rest of my team, to do the same."

That would have been true leadership.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Boy Scout Brewhaha

I am the proud mother of an Eagle Scout and the proud wife of an assistant scout master who spends hundreds of hours each year volunteering with the scouts. As a scouting parent, I am not very involved--camping, roughing it outdoors and other activities that scouts enjoy don't appeal to me. However, I KNOW Boy Scouts are about the best character forming organization there is for boys, and even for the adults who volunteer.

So--what do I think about the scouts accepting boys who admit they have a same-sex attraction? NO BIG DEAL! Scouting is NOT an organization that focuses on sex, sex education, etc. That' just not what it's all about. Scouts are expected not to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage--gay, straight or solitary sex, as part of the Scout Law. So the fear that there will be a bunch of homosexual sex happening at scouting activities is ridiculous. Are all scouts observant of this law all the time? No, but the Scout Law, like the Ten Commandments, exists to set expectations and keep the boys on track. They are accountable to it.

What do I make of all the fearful parents who are worried that their boys might be exposed to or in the company of boys with same-sex attraction? Get over it--boys with SSA are in your parishes, in schools, in gym classes, on sports teams, and in the activities that your kids engage in already. The world has not ended. There is NO reason to believe that scouting activities will be any different.

I've also heard the laughable comment that boys with SSA might discuss their "crushes" with other boys who are discussing their crushes on girls. Are you kidding me? Have the people who have expressed those concerns ever hung around boys of scouting age? I have NEVER heard a group of boys discussing their crushes--even when they don't know I'm around. It doesn't happen. These are BOYS not girls.

If a scout troop has strong adult leaders and takes the Scout Law seriously, I can't think of any better or safer place for any boy to develop character, and I can't think of a better place for boys to learn how to become the kind of men our Church and society need.

Are there legitimate things to worry about? Yes. Like many, I fear that the Boy Scouts MAY follow the culture and accept homosexual behavior as normal, okay and just another choice. I fear they may allow openly practicing homosexuals, who are engaging in sinful behavior, to become leaders. All involved in scouting must be vigilant. However, that's not happening right now.

Of course I support the rights of parents to pull their kids out of scouting, start up alternate programs, etc. But let's not jump the gun here. Scouting still is a great place for boys, and would a really tough act to follow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Assumption and Motherly Love

Today Catholics Celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. We believe that the mother of Jesus, Mary, was assumed into heaven body and soul. While this teaching is not in the Bible, it has been handed down from the beginnings of Christianity and is part of our sacred tradition. I wrote (or rather I believe I was given by the Holy Spirit)  the following essay two years ago, and it was published in my diocesan newspaper. As I re-read it today, the feelings it evoked are just as powerful. 

The Assumption and Motherly Love  

My mother died a few days after Christmas in 2008, and I miss her very much. Since that time, I think often about the love and loss shared by Mary and Jesus in their relationship as mother and son. As a result, Mary’s assumption into heaven has taken on a profound meaning for me.
            After several years of declining health and energy, my mother spent her last six months in pain, struggling for every breath and relied on others to help with her most basic needs. My mother’s body, that of an athlete in her younger years, bearer of five children, and an instrument of countless deeds of charity throughout her life, had wasted away and failed her.
            I accept her death as the beginning of her eternal life, and believe that her soul is with our loving Father in heaven. There have even been times when I’ve “felt” her presence, knowing that the love and care she has for me didn’t die when she did.
            But, I still miss her physical presence in the midst of my life. I miss her cooking and her homemade butterscotch sauce, her hugs and kisses, and holding her hand. I miss calling her with the latest family news and the lively political discussions she had with my husband. I miss her down-to-earth wisdom and her interpretation of the current events in my hometown, all punctuated by either nods of approval or eye-rolls. I even miss the narrowing of her eyes, jutting of her chin, and the quick bark of “Mary” when she didn’t quite of approve of something I said or did, usually regarding my children, her grandchildren. 
            After my mother’s death, I found myself thinking more and more and about the assumption of Mary.  Before Mom died, I focused on the assumption as a special reward for Mary. By God’s gift, she was conceived without original sin, and as “full of grace,” gave herself completely to God’s will throughout her life. God rewarded this total fidelity by saving her from the corruption of the grave and gave her a “head start” on her eternal state, body and soul united.
            Now, for me, the assumption has become a window into the heart of Jesus. Jesus longs to be with us eternally so much that he died for us, but his death did more than offer salvation for our souls. Catholicism teaches us that this salvation includes our bodies as well. We will enjoy heavenly eternity in the new Jerusalem as physical beings.
            When he ascended into heaven, Jesus preceded us in this state. As a man like us in all things but sin, did Jesus too long for the physical presence and companionship of his mother? In heaven, Jesus experienced of the physical separation of the person who made his life possible, lovingly cared for him, guided him, and supported him even when she didn’t quite understand what he was up to. Did Jesus miss hugging his mother and holding her hand? Is the assumption also about Jesus wanting to bring Mary into her eternal state to join him as soon as her earthly life was over?
            In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus uses the rejoicing of a father over the return of a wayward son to explain how God longs for our conversion:  “He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The assumption is also a celebration of the end of separation; the joyous reunion of a mother and son, separated for some years but now united totally, not only spiritually, in the same physical company forever. What great joy Jesus must have felt when he met his mother face-to-face. I find it easy to picture them running toward each other, crying and rejoicing that they would never again be apart.
            Through the death of my mother, I know there is no earthly love or comfort that can compensate for this loss. The pain of the separation can only be offered to God as a sacrifice and accepted as a cross, the consequences of original sin. The assumption reminds us that Jesus understands this longing and that we have been promised eternal companionship, not only with him, but also with our beloved family members who have died in his grace.       

Monday, March 26, 2012

Walking Through the Valley of Death

On Saturday, I attending a presentation by Father Tad Pachoczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center on the end of life ethical issues. After an informative and interesting talk, he reminded the priests, deacons and lay Catholics that the best way to minister to the sick and dying is by: (a) bringing them to the sacraments; (b) guiding them to understand the value of redemptive suffering. When we unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ, it becomes a powerful force and witness.

I fear that too often we focus on cheering the sick up, trying to make them feel better--which is not a bad thing. But Father Tad reminded me that it is okay--or rather a good thing--to say, "I know you are in pain. I know you are suffering. Jesus knows that too and accepts this gift of your suffering for the salvation of souls and to promote his work on earth."

When we do that, we've helped the sick person realize that (s)he is not just a victim of illness but an agent of Christ--and that makes all the difference in the midst of suffering.

I remember being with my mother in her last days. She was in a nursing home, and there was a prayer group of residents that met weekly. At the meeting,  my mother said that while they were all unable to do acts of charity, they could all pray--for each other, for families, for the needs of the world. That was their role and purpose during this time in their lives. She really got it, and I was proud.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Planned Parenthood is Boorish and Rude/Komen is a Coward

As somebody who spends a lot of time writing grant requests for a Catholic organization, I have to tell you, Planned Parenthood could use a bit of humility. No organization is ENTITLED to a grant. If an organization would like funding, it makes its case and hopes its goals, values and organization align with those of the foundation. How rude, boorish and unprofessional Planned Parenthood was when it was told "no." Instead of saying, "Thank you for funding us all these years, maybe in the future we can have a meeting of the minds," Planned Parenthood threw a tantrum and threw Komen under the bus.
It was nothing short of bullying to drag Komen through the mud for denying grants in amounts that total a fraction of 1% of Planned Parenthood's annual budget! 
When Komen stepped back from their "no" as a result of this bullying, they too lost credibility. How can you effectively advocate for women struggling to overcome breast cancer--who need all the strength, courage and fighting spirit they can muster--when you don't have enough backbone to say "no" and mean it? 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Will Amazon Kill Off Public Libraries?

Years ago, when I was looking for something to read, I'd go to the library and browse the shelves. I don't do that much any more. Today, I go to Amazon, figure out what books I'd like to read (I have about 20 authors whom I follow), and go online to see if the library has the book. If so, I electronically reserve it. I get an email telling me when it's available, and I go pick it up. I return the book via the drive-by drop off box.

This means that I am as intimately involved in my public library as I am in the drive-thru fast food restaurants I patronize much too often.

What does this mean for the future of libraries? I KNOW I'm not the only person who does this. In fact, when I electronically reserve a book, I'm usually in line behind 10 or more people who seem to using the library in the same way I am.

And, if that's not impersonal enough, Amazon now has a Prime membership (which I got for Christmas) that lets me borrow one book a month (for my Kindle, which I've posted that I love). For less that $80, I get access to 12 bestsellers a year immediately when I'm ready to read them. No waiting.

Just about all the "serious" readers I know, those who read 20 or more books/year, have Kindles or Nooks or those apps on their Smartphones. For us, the public library is a free alternative to getting books that we'd have to otherwise pay for. As the prices of ebooks decline and savy marketers find ways to get ebooks on our devices quicker and cheaper than driving to the library, there is less of an incentive for us to borrow from bricks and mortar.

But what about research? Does anybody ever really use the library instead of the Internet any more for research--at least those not in college? My kids write term papers all the time. They never go to the library. The journals they need are online and free. Other than academics, it's hard for me to imagine that any "knowledge" I  need for my day-to-day life cannot be found online, for free, while I surf and eat my lunch.

What does this mean for libraries? I've thought about this a lot. When I do my quick visits, the patrons are: (1) People of limited means who are "hanging out;" (2) People using the free computers; (3) People reading the magazines; (4) Mothers with little kids borrowing tons of kids' books.

It used to be EVERYBODY loved libraries, or at least the idea of libraries.Will our communities fund libraries, as they have in the past, to keep the above patrons happy? I don't think so. This makes me a bit sad.

SO, I believe the future of the public library is bleak, unless there is a lot of energy injected into them and the libraries themselves are willing to "think outside the book" in serving patrons. I too love the idea of a public library, but in fact, the library hasn't engaged me for quite a while.

That's just the way it is, not the way I'd like it to be.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Presidential Election Predictions

A few folks have asked me how I see things--so here is a summary, and why.

For me, it's simply a numbers game. The following isn't my idea of what "should" happen, but what I believe WILL happen unless there is a major intervening event to shake the world up.

Republican nominee: probably Romney, but it really doesn't matter. I can't see any scenario in which Obama is NOT reelected.


In the US, right-to-life, traditional marriage and conscience issues don't move enough voters to vote for candidates based on those issues alone. That's just the fact. It is also the fact that candidates who run on those issues are ineffective and/or uninterested in implementing policies affecting those issues when elected. Example: George Bush 1--how long did it take for him to get a partial birth abortion ban in place?

Assumption: 40% of voters will vote for ANYBODY the Republicans nominate. 40% of the voters will vote for ANYBODY the Democrats nominate. The real battle is for the 20% who are open to voting otherwise. I just don't see Romney or any other Republican candidate getting 11% of that vote.

Regarding the role of the Electoral College in all of this--I know many people in the "swing" states, and I believe I know what's on their minds at least as well as the pundits. Also, I've actually lived in one of those states for a number of years. I still can't see the numbers swinging enough to favor a Republican candidate.The math does not compute.

BUT--what about the economy? If you think it stinks, you probably aren't interested in voting for a party who is perceived as being really tough on the unemployed. 

HOWEVER, I believe the economy doesn't really stink, and the prospects are good. Evidence: my 401K from a previous job was flat (not going up or down) in 2011, and has recovered  from 2008.There is a lot of cash sitting out there waiting for investment opportunity. It won't sit for much longer. I'm bullish on 2012. What about Europe? I believe Germany will keep everybody in line, but even if they fail, the troubled countries are such a minuscule part of the global economy that they can't take the world down--some banks, perhaps, but not the world. The numbers just aren't there. That would be like South Dakota (a state I really love--no offense here), driving the US economy. It just doesn't add up.

Yes, some folks are underwater in their mortgages, and far too many are unemployed and stressed financially. And how is that good for Republicans? It's not, see above.

SO given that few voters actually vote on the USCCB's five critical issues (that's just the way it is, not how I'd like it to be) AND the economy is good, which is good for Obama, OR the economy is bad, which is also good for a party that is perceived as being "nicer" in hard times, I just don't see any Republican winning.