Category Archives: Religion

Reckoning

St. Peter settled into his chair. It looked like another long day — but every day’s a long day when you’re holding the keys of the kingdom. Peter has plenty of help for this day-to-day stuff, but he still likes to pull a shift at the pearly gates.

Halfway through the morning an interesting case approached the bench.

“So, in life you were a talk radio host.” St. Peter peered over his glasses. Standing before him was an ordinary looking man whose head was shaped rather like a light bulb. He was sweating and looking down at his shoes. “On the radio in Albany for 30 years. Albany. That’s certainly the minors.”

St. Peter flipped through a thick pile of paper.

“You said some pretty colorful things about people. Immigrants, refugees, Muslims, women, gays, lesbians, transgender. State workers, union members, cops, firemen, teachers. You’re tough on politicians. I suppose I get that, but you called Elizabeth Warren ‘Pocahontas’ 37 times in one morning? Really. Shall I go on, this is a very long list?”

“St. Peter, you need to understand, that’s not me — it’s just my act. It’s a radio show, it’s supposed to be entertainment. I don’t really believe all that stuff that I say.”

“Ah, entertainment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that. Remember the Romans feeding people to the lions? Entertainment. Dogfighting? Entertainment. Cop Rock? Entertainment.”

There was silence.

“C’mon, smile, that was a joke.”

St. Peter shoved his files aside.

“Look, maybe you didn’t believe everything you said — actually, I can’t accept that anyone would be so stupid — but do you think the people who listened to you understood that it was an act? I think they heard someone who echoed back the fear and hatred in their hearts.”

“What about them,” the host asked. “I was just saying that stuff — the listeners were the ones doing the hating.”

More silence. It was a moment, but it felt like a week.

“Well, I was going to ask if you’re ready to repent, but you already answered my question.”

St. Peter started tapping on his keyboard (a 27-inch iMac, in case you’re wondering) and cleared his throat.

“OK, here’s what’s going to happen. We’re sending you downstairs to think this over. We grant you an appeal automatically, but as you can imagine, there’s quite a wait before we hear your case. Right now, our next opening is in… March 2896. You’ll get a letter with the exact date.”

An angel stepped up to lead the man away.

“Hey, don’t look so glum, it could be worse. One of your friends will be down there to join you soon. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Trump. Donald Trump? OK, who’s next?”

Thanks for All the Fish

Lent means no meat on Friday, because… well, because God said so, that’s why.

Many Americans abstain and indulge at the same time, taking in the great tradition of the Friday fish fry. In a lot of communities, it’s the local fire department that serves up the fish dinners. When I was a member at Elsmere Fire Company, the Lenten fish frys were a big deal: hundreds of community members who would show up and it’s an important fund raiser for the fire company.

The menu varies from place to place, but you’ll always find cole slaw and fries, and at some, baked potatoes or clam rolls are offered. I’m biased, but for me, Elsmere has the best fish around. New Salem Fire Department, in the shadow of Thacher Park has great pies for desert for those with a sweet tooth — assuming you haven’t given it up for Lent! At my firehouse, we also served chicken nuggets, known in some circles as the “sinner dinner.”

Fish frys, church suppers and the like are part of the old-fashioned glue that holds us all together. It’s easy to find yourself a roast beef dinner or all-you-can-eat breakfast. You don’t need to be a regular; everyone is welcomed and it’s a great way to get a taste of a community. Literally.

Pass the Latkes

My office is at the corner of State and Pearl, squarely at the crossroads of downtown Albany. It’s certainly not Manhattan, but the sidewalks bring an interesting blend of people.

On the way out of my building to get a cup of tea, two men, apparently Orthodox Jews, stopped me and asked if I’m Jewish. I said no as I held the door for them, and they cheerfully wished me Happy Hanukkah. “Thank you,” I said. “Happy Hanukkah!”

That may not sound unusual, but I don’t think anyone’s ever wished me Happy Hanukkah. I walked off with a smile because it really made my day for them to share their celebration with me in that small way.

Much is made of how to greet people this time of year and whether it’s OK to say Merry Christmas or whatnot. Look, stop thinking and just go for it. If someone’s offended by your Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Saturnalia or whatever the heck you celebrate, that’s on them.

Now, what did I do with that dreidel?

Oy Vey

Before my departure from TV world, I started to notice something in the newsroom: many of the young people working as reporters or producers were sort of ignorant.

I’m not saying they weren’t smart, just poorly educated in certain areas. What areas? Oh, I don’t know — little things like history, politics, culture… the sort of things you learn by doing some reading.

We saw a good example of that this week at Chicago’s WGN-TV where they used a wildly inappropriate graphic with a story about Yom Kippur:

YomKip

Who would use this painful reminder of the Holocaust to represent a story about Yom Kippur? Someone who’s clueless. More likely, several clueless people — from the graphic artist who found the image and prepared it for air to the producer(s) who’s supposed to review this stuff.

Rack it up as an honest mistake.

Nobody knows everything — and context is not something people learn in school

Put Your Hand in the Hand

Do they hold hands at your church? At mine they do.

In the past several years, people have started clasping hands during the Lord’s Prayer. They never did before – but let me give you a little background.

For years, my parish, St. Thomas in Delmar, was oppressively uptight. Mass was less a celebration than a sentence to an hour of tight-assed torture.

I would occasionally go to other places – like St. Vincent de Paul in Albany – and marvel at the inspiring atmosphere at mass. “Wow,” I’d say, “this is what Jesus must have had in mind!” Then, back at my church, I’d be subjected to the joyless, prison-like ordeal that did more to suck out your soul than uplift your spirit.

Then, several years ago, we got a new pastor, a no-nonsense guy who’d done his time at tough inner-city churches. He had little patience for the politics  inherent to our affluent suburban parish, and started making changes. That’s when people started leaving. It turns out that many congregants would rather drive elsewhere on Sunday than deal with a little change.

Our pastor’s latest terrible scheme? He’s rearranging the pews to create a more inviting atmosphere. You can’t imagine how angry people are about that. Heretic!

Back to hand-holding. Suddenly, it seemed people were unafraid to hold hands. For years folks have been doing this during the Lord’s Prayer, but never at our parish. It’s almost as if they thought they’d be yelled at or something, cowering at the raised fist of authority.

I’m ambivalent about the hand-holding. Personally, I could do without it, because it feels a bit artificial. I don’t really enjoy holding hands with strangers – but if it makes people feel good, who am I to complain?

But it’s good to see these changes. Could it be that a church based on humility is finally returning to its roots? Let’s hope so; the church had better embrace change or else we won’t have one.

The Snow Report

Well, a month ago I claimed it wouldn’t snow this winter because of the new (used) snow blower in the garage. That was just me being cheeky — but now you’ve got to wonder.

snow blower

Here we are, a month later, and there still hasn’t been enough snow to use the damn thing. This has caused me to do something I haven’t done since elementary school: wish for an epic snowfall.

Every day I check the forecast with the perverse hope that we’ll get dumped on. Even my prayers have not worked. They go something like this:

Please, God, send us a hellish storm that incapacitates the area. We are an ungrateful people and deserve to be punished with at least 18 inches of snow, preferably falling during the overnight hours…

Not sure if that will work, but just to cover all bases, I’m following the example of Park City Mountain Resort  and seeking members of the Ute indian tribe to help bring some snow. I’ll let you know if anyone replies to the ad.

The Medium is the Message

While reading the TU’s online obits this morning — at 53, that’s what you do — an interesting advertisement appeared at the top of the screen. It was for a Clifton Park business called Among Angels, and the ad offered to “Help you connect with those who have crossed over.”

Interesting. And nice ad placement, by the way.

One way they offer to connect you is through an Angel Circle, a group activity where participants are guided by a medium. The website says,

While not everyone will necessarily get a message, everyone will experience the wonders of spirit communication, and discover that death is not the end but merely a doorway though which we all must pass!

Again, interesting.

Like a lot of people, I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me wants to believe there is some sort of spirit world — but my rational brain always comes down firmly with the skeptics.

A lot of money has been paid over the years by people who want to get in touch with dead loved ones. Maybe there’s something to it — but do note the disclaimer way at the bottom of their website: FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY.

The Kingdom of Dog

While comforting a boy on the loss of his beloved dog, Pope Francis said “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

Well, if the Pope says that dogs go to heaven, that’s pretty exciting news.

This has sparked a lively discussion, not just among theologians, but in the animal rights community, as well.

Belief in heaven is where faith is truly tested and it’s something I think about all the time. It’s hard for the rational mind have it all make sense, to completely accept that our souls will go on after death. The lack of proof is what makes it faith, not fact.

But what’s the harm in believing? There’s nothing wrong with that boy expecting to see his dog in heaven. And if after death there is nothing, he’ll never know the difference.

It would really be something to spend eternity with my dogs. The cats too, as long as I don’t have to change the litter boxes. That’s more like Hell.

Proverbially Speaking

Church on Sunday featured one of my wife’s favorite readings. You may know it, it’s from Proverbs 31, and begins,  When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. It goes on to list some virtues of a worthy wife:

She brings him good, and not evil,
all the days of her life.
She obtains wool and flax
and works with loving hands.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her fingers ply the spindle.
She reaches out her hands to the poor,
and extends her arms to the needy.

This naturally caused her to beam and nudge me and look very pleased, until I muttered, “She changes the litter box now and then…”

This caused her to reach out her hand to me and poke me hard in the soft spot under your ribs. That may not be listed as one of those virtuous attributes, but I suppose it’s an important part her job anyway.