I would appreciate a little peace and privacy

Land_Girl_Iris_Joyce_leading_a_bull_at_a_farm_somewhere_in_Britain_during_1942._D8839The federal government keeps giving us plenty to talk about – and more help than we want or need.

New rules handed down by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) require homeless shelters to allow residents to use the facilities assigned to the gender they choose, as opposed to their biological gender.

I expect the rationale here is that some poor, weak, defenseless little transgender person will show up at a homeless shelter looking like a man, claim to be a woman and be humiliated by being asked to use the men’s toilet…or shower….or bedroom.

The rule doesn’t consider an equally likely scenario; a homeless woman fleeing an abusive husband seeks shelter and finds she has to shower with, well, a man who says he is a woman.

I don’t know how many homeless transgender people there are, but I expect there are more women fleeing abusive husbands or boyfriends than gender-confused people seeking shelter.

On a purely practical basis, the women ought to get first shot at being in a safe environment.  On a moral basis, we wouldn’t have this debate if we weren’t second-guessing God’s plan for human beings.

The federal government is creative.  Not to be outdone by HUD, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is conducting summits for lesbian farmers as part of its “Rural Pride” campaign.  Really.  I’m not making this up.

Apparently there are young women who grow up on farms, discover they are lesbians, don’t feel welcome amid the corn, soybeans, cows and pigs and head off to a life of poverty and despair.  This leaves a bunch of Bible-clinging heterosexuals to get rich tilling the soil.

Frankly, there are lots of people who grow up on farms and decide not to stay.  They go off to the city to find their fortune and end up as everything from street sweepers to CEOs.  Maybe we should sponsor summits for brain surgeons, nurses, sea captains and professional basketball players who didn’t stay down on the farm.

Both my parents grew up on a farm.  Both left.  Neither was a lesbian.

Until this week, I never thought much about the sexual orientation of the people who grow the food I eat, let alone the pigs, cows and chickens that make the ultimate sacrifice to fill my tummy.  I really don’t object to lesbian farmers, but I can’t see spending tax dollars to promote them.

A ship by any other name…

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A multitude of watercraft ply the rivers and seas of the earth.  Some of those vessels have names, which range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

For our immediate purposes, I’m going to deal with only two categories of craft and how they are named.

The first is the naval warship.  These noble craft typically are named after a state, city, heroic character or word that might strike fear in the hearts of enemies.  These are names a sailor likely could relate to and utter with a bit of pride or attitude.  USS Abraham Lincoln.  USS Avenger.  USS Galaxy.  USS Phantom.  USS Thrasher.  USS Viper.

The second category is the pleasure craft.  In most cases these are boats rather than ships.  And they have names given by their owners that suggest that the owner is, well, having fun.  The names are clever and raise a chuckle:  Lobster Mobster.  The Grateful Dad.  Idiots Delight.  Beeracuda.  Reel Busy.  Diesel Dude.

It is vital, when naming a craft, not to confuse these two categories.  You wouldn’t want to face the Russian Navy in a ship called Mr. Tip-sea.  And you wouldn’t want to go out fishing with your friends in a 20-foot boat called USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Unfortunately, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus seems to have become a bit confused on how to appropriately name a Navy ship and has decided to name one of our fleet after Harvey Milk.

Milk was a well-know gay activist in San Francisco.  He was known to stretch the truth and to have a tendency to being overly affectionate with boys.  Much of his iconic status in the gay community resulted from his murder by Dan White, a fellow member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  (At least in Chicago our aldermen don’t shoot each other – they just bribe each other.)

I’ll admit that Milk attained a certain notoriety.  I just can’t fathom his name on a ship full of sailors.  Maybe on a bath house or alternative school of some sort.

I suggest the Navy Secretary go to the Pentagon’s record center and get a list of seafaring souls who have lost their lives in the line of duty.  Name the ship after one of them.  Any would be a better choice the Milk.

Pity, not pride

abortionMillions of women have had abortion – some more than one.

This isn’t a happy fact.  It is sad, horrible, sinful.  But rather than condemn these women (and the men who were part of their story), we are called to forgive.  There is no human failing that God cannot heal.  And we must ask him to help us show mercy.

Keeping all that in mind, there are pro-abortion groups that sorely test my mercifulness.  Recently moving to the top of my list of dark forces is “We Testify.”

The group sells clothing for women with bold slogans like, “I had an abortion.”  And for men, tank tops that say, “I fund abortion.”

This rather shameless group encourages women who have had abortion to tell their stories.  In my blunt terms, they want the women to brag about their abortions.  They describe what there are about:

Every day someone chooses to have an abortion. We are not alone in this decision, however, due to stigma, we’re often made to feel isolated and shamed. Our stories remind us and those around us that we’re not alone. We testify as experts to our experiences. We testify that our spirituality and abortion are one. We testify on behalf of our communities and others who’ve had abortions across the country. When we speak out and share our stories, we demand to be counted

I have a difficult time putting abortion and spirituality in the same breath. There isn’t anything spiritual about having an abortion – but I hope there will be spiritual help for those who have had abortions and want to recover.  They have arrived at a moment that needs pity, not pride.

We Testify won’t heal the hurting; it will simply delay the time when the suffering are willing to experience real healing.

Children choosing

kidsPope Francis hit a raw nerve among transgender advocates this week by suggesting that children should not be taught that they can select their gender.

I expect some readers will read that opening sentence a couple times; I don’t know how to more clearly explain the conflict.  But that won’t stop me from trying…

There are folks in the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community who believe children need to be educated in gender theory so they can knowledgably decide what gender they are.  The Pope suggests this is a terrible idea and he supports the Catholic idea that God created man and woman and it is God’s decision which gender each of us will be.

To the LGBT crowd, this is insensitive and hurtful.  They – like many in today’s permissive culture – can’t grasp the idea that the Pope can express love and mercy to ANYONE while not approving of their behavior.  He is famous for going to jails on Easter Thursday and washing the feet of people convicted of horrible crimes.  It is an expression of love for those persons, not approval of their bad deeds.

On a more practical level, teaching young children about sexual options that are contrary to God’s plan isn’t just morally questionable, but a violation of common sense.  Having actually raised a couple children, I believe I have some insight.

There are many decisions parents must make for their children to prevent them from hurting themselves:

  • If allowed to choose their own diet, most kids likely would choose chocolate over fresh vegetables.
  • If allowed to determine which television shows to watch, most kids likely would stray from the Disney Channel.
  • If allowed to set their own bedtimes, most kids wouldn’t get enough sleep to get to school in the morning.
  • Come to think of it, lots of children would reject school and never learn to read or write.

These being practical realities, do anything think it is a sane idea to have little kids being lectured on various gender options and deciding for themselves whether to be a boy, girl or combination or both?

Falling and littleness

madonnaPope Francis fell.  His official spokesman says he is fine.  He went right ahead and finished celebrating Mass at Jasna Gora, a holy place of deep significance for Poles.

It is news when the Holy Father takes a tumble.  He doesn’t even need to be hurt.  A little slip and the media speculate – maybe he is ill – maybe he didn’t get enough rest – maybe his tailor forget to hem his cassock.

Maybe the media still don’t realize he wasn’t elected Pope based on athleticism.

And maybe he is thinking more about the littleness of God than where to place his next step.

I’m not physically present at World Youth Day.  Frankly, I’m past the point where I might be accused of being a youth.  So I watch on television and read what the Holy Father has to say.

He might have stumbled during the Masna Gora Mass, but only physically – not rhetorically.  He spoke about littleness, which isn’t something people usually think about when they think of God.

God is the almighty, King of Kings, ruler of the heavens and earth, the source of everything good.  But for our sake, he also can be little.

When the world needed mercy and forgiveness, God didn’t ride across the sky in a golden chariot, throwing down thunderbolts to cleanse us of evil.  Instead, he allowed himself to be born of Mary and enter our world as a little baby, innocent, weak, subject to the laws of nature.

He picked simple, weak human beings to join his mission:  fishermen, tax collectors, tent makers – even a former prostitute.  His was an army of the little people.  And I think the Holy Father is trying to help us understand why.

An almighty, celestial being is far beyond my comprehension.  I can’t rise to that level.  But God is to powerful and merciful that he can come to my level.  As we say when evangelizing, he meets people where they are.

We’re called to evangelize, not by gazing toward the start, but by reaching out – or down – to those in need of God’s boundless mercy.  We are called to be little, like God.

Evidence that the end is near

endThis is the day of peace, the Friday between the end of the Republican convention and the start of next week’s Democrat convention.

If you watched the Republicans, you likely are torn between moments of hope and despair, wondering if there is no common sense left in this troubled world.  I predict the Democrats will produce similar emotions – I admit more on the despair side for me.

In the past months the terrorist attacks, shootings of apparently innocent souls and savage murders of police are too numerous to list.  I expect most news organizations now have a standard news story format something like:

DATELINE — ______ innocent people died today when _____ shot them to death in _____ . Police are withholding names until families are notified.  They are trying to determine if the shooter acted alone.  Democrats said it was a terrible act of violence and police are to blame.  Republicans said it was an attack by radical Islamic terrorists and ISIS must be bombed into the Stone Age.

Each day I hear people say that our country has never been so divided.  As someone with more than a passing interest in history, I point out the Civil War, Revolutionary War and Vietnam War as just a few times that were at least as divisive.

But yes, it is getting angry out there.

To these broad troubles, I add more narrow (but perhaps deeper) evidence of how distorted our culture has become:

  • A few nights ago I saw a television commercial for an upcoming program that openly used profanity taking the Lord’s name in vain. This wasn’t a movie in a theater or on a cable channel late at night.  It was a regular old channel in early evening.
  • Police in New Jersey recently responded to a call for help from an elementary school. They arrested a third grader for allegedly using a racial slur; he had referred to something at the school bake sale as a brownie.  The parents will send their child to a different school – unless state authorities decide they are unfit bigots.
  • Airport authorities are being sued by a traveler who was bloodied, bruised and arrested after a misunderstanding with TSA agents. She didn’t immediately comply with instructions and become confused when agents started yelling at her.  This wasn’t because she was planning a terror attack, but because she is partially deaf and has paralysis, and was on her way home from treatment for a brain tumor at St. Jude Hospital.

A return to decency and common sense wouldn’t solve every problem we face, but it would be a good start.

No, I don’t think the end is near.  But I do think we’re nearing the point of no return.

The weeping Catholic

photo-1442115597578-2d0fb2413734I usually try to find the humor in the events of the day, but of late there has been much to bring tears to the eyes of a laughing Catholic.

Rotten cops shoot innocent Blacks.  Black thugs shoot innocent cops.  At least that is what I see on the news.

Alleged solutions abound:

  • More gun laws.
  • More training for police.
  • More police in problem neighborhoods.
  • Hiring cops from the problem neighborhoods.
  • More aggressive prosecution of hate crimes.
  • More jobs for urban Black males.
  • Better schools.
  • Free college for all.

I watched a semi-moderated discussion on Fox News and the language reminded me of the nonsense I heard in the early 1970s on the campus of the University of Illinois, from which I earned a couple college degrees.  Oh…there was such passion and conviction.  There was such caring.  People really, really want everyone to hold hands and sing kum ba yah.  Why can’t we all just be friends?

Everything that is wrong is the fault of someone else.

The passionate demands pour forth:  The President should act.  Congress must act.  The states must act.  Maybe we need the United Nations to intervene.  And blah, blah, blah.

The racial strife and debate over gun control are tragic, but only symptoms of our greatest failure:  we have not taught our children well.

Ask a young person who George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were – and what they stood for.  Ask them to explain Martin Luther King Junior’s “I have a dream” speech.  Ask them why their ancestors fought – and many died – fighting evil during World War II.

They likely won’t know.

Ask a young person who Jesus Christ was – and is – let along Moses, David, Peter, Paul and John.

Ask why the US Constitution was written to keep the government out of your life, not consume you.

Ask whether they can recall at least five of the 10 commandments.

As you certainly suspect, I’m not confident about the responses these questions will generate.  It isn’t that young people are stupid; they are ignorant and we are to blame. We have not taught them right from wrong.  We have not passed on the faith of our fathers.

We have taught them that problems are solved by laws and regulations…we have not taught them the natural law.

Without the knowledge of right and wrong, the moral foundation to take virtuous action, we see the only way to solve problems to be the creation and enforcement of laws that make people behave.  This approach is doomed to fail and we’ve proved it.

My home, Chicago, has some of the toughest gun control laws in the nation – and has become America’s murder capital.

We have hate crime laws, but I have yet to understand why if someone kills me whether it matters how much they abhorred me at the time.

So I fear that we’ll have all sorts of new laws passed to show action and how much we really care.  They won’t make an iota of difference.

Half a century of ignoring, sometimes ridiculing the American Dream, making fun of the Christian faith and letting kids decide for themselves how much two plus two equals – all this silliness has left us with a serious problem.  Our culture is post moral.

It will take us half a century, courage and persistence to turn things around.  The sooner we get started, the fewer body bags we’ll need in homes, schools and city streets.

Iuvenescit Ecclesia made simple

brothers-835169_960_720Much time and vast amounts of server space and printer’s ink have been devoted to an analysis of Iuvenescit Ecclesia, the letter issued in early June to the Bishops of the Catholic Church.

We Catholic are skilled complicators, so the subtitle of the letter says it is “Regarding the Relationship Between Hierarchical and Charismatic Gifts in the Life and the Mission of the Church.”

Sounds complicated – but doesn’t have to be.  So, here is the non-theologian’s take on it:

  • The “Hierarchical” refers to what I would call the institutional church, the dioceses and parishes that are defined having authority in a particular geography.
  • The “Charismatic” refers to the congregations and movements that are joined by a particular spiritualism and tend to wander around various geographical authorities.
  • There is tension between these two.
  • The Vatican suggests that since they are all in the Catholic Church and trying to save souls, they should get along and not squabble.

This reminds me of a scene from my boyhood, which I recall with mixed feelings.

My dad loved to drive.  It being the 1950s and 1960s, his love of driving led to summer vacations spent in the car. There was an advertising slogan – “See the USA in your Chevrolet” – that he apparently took to heart.

We drove from Ohio to Florida and back.  To Washington DC and back.  To Oregon and back.  To Quebec and back.  To Boston and back.

My younger brother and I spent a couple weeks every summer sitting together in the back seat of the car trying not to get into trouble with mom, dad or each other.  Boys being boys, we sometimes failed.  Failure tended to generate a rather severe commentary from the front seat.

I recall an especially creative spat between my brother and me that produced my mom’s comment:  You boys really should fight – one of these days the rest of the family will be gone and you’ll just have each other.  And there will never be anyone who is closer to you than each other.

The message from the Vatican to the hierarchical and charismatic is much the same:  you are brothers and ought to stop fighting; you are closer to each other than to anyone else.

Boys will be boys…


What are little boys made of?

Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

— Nursery Rhyme, 19th century

Life was simpler in the 19th century.  Boys were boys and girls were girls and they even had nursery rhymes to point out the difference.  Most people likely thought it was good there was a difference.Kindergarten_is_fun_(2908834379)

There carried on a long tradition of the two genders wearing different clothing.  Boys wore pants and girls wore dressed.

Boys still wear pants most of the time, although there are the occasional kilt guys; nobody ever accused Sir Sean Connery of looking girlish in his kilt.

Girls still tend to wear dresses for “dressy” occasions.  But pants are common for women; I’ve seen Scarlet Johansson wearing pants in a couple movies and I didn’t get confused and think she was a guy.

But I think parents are wise to give a bit of direction to small children on gender-appropriate attire.  Pants for boys, dresses for girls – with the choice dictated by biology.

This puts me at odds with educators in the UK, where it is reported that as many as 80 schools are offering “gender neutral” uniforms.  The schools want to be sensitive to “trans” children, thus allowing students to decide for themselves whether to be boys or girls (at least in how they dress).

While this would give me pause under any circumstances, I find it rather astonishing that students as young as 5 years are being given the choice.  So there are Billy and Betty entering kindergarten and being confronted with one of life’s greatest identify crises.  Am I a he or a she?  Or have we meandered to the place where everyone is an it?

This is the place where I recommend responsible parenting.  It goes something like this:

Billy, you are a boy and will wear pants to school

Betty, you are a girl and will wear a dress to school

This might be putting a bit of pressure on some parents, but it is time the grownups got a handle on this.  You wouldn’t let a five-year-old plan his own diet, medical care or education.  You wouldn’t let a five-year-old drive a car or fly a plane.

Why would you let a child decide he is different than how God created him?

Making the world a safer place

fcoI traveled to Rome and back last week, a pretty good gig I admit.

But this isn’t about the sights of Rome or the joy of working for a Catholic organization, although those are certainly topics of interest.

Instead, I offer my perspective on airport security; my expertise is related to standing in line.

I flew out of O’Hare, a very large airport.  And it is staffed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The TSA treats everyone the same.  Whether you are a decrepit granny or a gun-toting lunatic, you get the same screening and you stand in lines for a long time.  For the most part, the TSA agents are friendly and polite.  But they are more like theater ushers than police.  If my home were being invaded, I wouldn’t call a TSA agent for help.

I flew into Rome (FCO), also a very big airport.  And it is staffed by more serious security people.

The Italian security people treat people with selective seriousness.  In other words, they adjust to their perception of people and, well, profile.  This makes more sense to me, although I don’t really understand everything they do – or why I had to go through so many steps.

After getting a boarding pass, the first security person checked it and asked where I was going.  I suppose she couldn’t assume that I was going the same place it said on the boarding pass.

Next, she turned me over to an elegantly dressed, attractive young woman who asked me a series of questions:

  • What is your job? (Communications for a Catholic organization.)
  • Where do you work? (Chicago.)
  • Where is the organization headquartered? (Rome.)
  • What are your hobbies? (Fishing and playing the piano, not always in that order.)

If she had asked me my astrological sign I would have feared she was looking for a date.  But this wasn’t the right environment or circumstances, so after these strange questions, she ushered me along to the next checkpoint.

After I put my electronic chargers and cords in plastic grocery bags, a nice woman in a blue uniform helped me take things out of my luggage and navigate the x-ray equipment.  She didn’t ask me any flirty questions.

Then it was off to the departure area.  Before actually getting on a plane, I had to show my boarding pass and passport three more times.  They were really sure I was me.

One other little detail about the airport in Rome; they have real SWAT folks hanging around.  We’re talking body armor, assault rifles, lots of ammo and serious faces.  If my home were being invaded, these are people I would ask for help.

Both the Americans and the Italians exhibit imperfect security systems.  Each could learn from the other.  But the Italians sure seem more serious.  I like serious.