Saturday, January 28, 2012

Does kindness matter?

Does being kind really matter? We all know that there are an almost limitless number of ways in which any single individual can be kind – a smile, holding the elevator door for someone, inviting a friend over for dinner – but do any of them really make a difference? Of course people may seem appreciative of one's kindness, but that's not the question. The question is, whether or not a moment of kindness, even if forgotten, changes a person in some profound manner. Does a gesture of kindness give a person something which they didn't have before? Or are these merely questions we ask ourselves in order to give our lives some existential meaning in a meaningless world?

One of America's favorite movies for the better part of fifty years, has been Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. While we typically identify it as a Christmas movie, the message of the film reaches beyond a single holiday. We're all familiar with the story and the character of George Bailey. He touched so many lives without ever knowing it. Yet how many of us dare to ask ourselves: “Am I a George Bailey? Does my life have even a fraction of the impact that George's did?” After all, sometimes it's difficult, if not impossible, to be kind to people. Health, finances, or one's own internal state can hinder us in our efforts to be as kind and giving as George Bailey -- and even he broke down and needed cosmic intervention to see that his kindness truly mattered.

Unfortunately, no one in the real world is granted such cosmic intervention, which leaves us guessing as to whether or not our acts of kindness make any real difference in people's lives. For the most part, the only method which we have for determining whether or not kindness matters, is our own personal experience with those who have been kind to us. When someone has been kind to you, has it made a difference? It has for me. When I recall those who have been kind to me, I do so with great fondness. From those who have simply listened to me in my pain, to those who've encouraged me to push forward, acts of kindness have truly made a difference in my life, and for that I remain eternally grateful. Not just for the acts themselves, but especially for the people behind the kindness.

The frustrating part of being kind is never knowing if kindness will do for others, what it has done for us. People may say “thank you” for holding the elevator door, and surely they'll eat that meal which we've cooked for them, but will that kindness really mean anything to that person? Will they be profoundly changed from a single act of kindness? Or is being kind to others merely an act of vanity to comfort us in our quest for immortality?

The more I live and experience the world, the more I come to believe that kindness probably doesn't make much of a difference to most people. After all, how many times have we been kind only to have it thrown back in our face? The hope that kindness will change someone is no real hope at all. There is no real chance that being kind to someone will benefit them – or us. Yet, I will continue to be kind to others. I will continue to say good morning, and good evening. I will continue to smile at people on the street. I will continue to be kind to those who don't ask for it, and I will continue to treat people the way in which I want to be treated.

Does it all matter in the grand scheme of things? Is there even a grand scheme of things for it to matter to? I don't know. What I do know is that kindness has made a real difference in my life, and while there may be no “real” chance of it making a difference, there is always that slim chance that it will matter to someone, somewhere – and so I will continue to struggle to be kind, in an increasingly unkind world.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Catholic Church proves that being anti-abortion is not synonymous with being pro-life!

Just when you thought it was safe to give the Roman Catholic Church the benefit of the doubt, it once again has given believers and non-believers yet another reason to ask: “What the f***?”

A Roman Catholic diocese in England has, believe it or not, turned away a seven year old boy from his first Communion. Why? Is the boy a hoodlum? Is he the Omen? No, nothing like that. In fact it's all very simple really. He was denied his first Communion because he has Down's syndrome!

According to the BBC News, a letter sent to the boy's parents claimed that their son, “had "limited concentration" and was not prepared for the experience.” And in a later television broadcast (which can be viewed on the Huffington Post) a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Leeds kept telling the boy's mother that she needed to do everything in her power to “meet his learning needs” before he would be allowed to partake. Talk about blaming the victim! "Your kid has Down's syndrome -- but if you were a better Catholic, teacher, and mother, someday he may be allowed to partake of the body and blood of Jesus Christ." How nice!

Many people have come to the defense of the Church and argued that this is normal procedure for dealing with anyone who doesn't understand the Catholic faith. According to these people's interpretation of the Catholic faith, one cannot partake of Communion until one understands what it is one is doing in the act of partaking. Of course this raises a problem. Just how many seven year olds actually understand the complex philosophical explanation of the Eucharist known as transubstantiation? How many adults understand it? Oh, that's right – practically none of them! Is "understanding" the faith now the criteria for determining who can and cannot become full fledged members of the Church?

What others have found so unbelievably hypocritical about the parish priest's position – which by the way, is fully supported by the Diocese of Leeds itself – is that the Roman Catholic Church is supposedly “pro-life.” Church leadership rails against abortion, threatens political leaders who are pro-choice with excommunication, and is even against contraception. In current American politics, we even have a presidential candidate named Rick Santorum who once promised to repeal all federal funding of contraception, and even claimed that states should have the right to outlaw contraception. And guess what? Santorum just happens to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church. The same Roman Catholic Church which just told a seven year old boy with Down's syndrome to buzz off, because Jesus doesn't tolerate inattentive and unprepared Church goers who don't have the mental capacity to “understand” or “enjoy” their time in Church.

Of course, if that is now the Church's standard in determining one's “worthiness” of receiving Communion I have to ask just why is the Church allowing anyone to partake of Communion? I also must ask why does this one diocese feel this way, when in fact all of the Eastern Rite Catholics (along with the Eastern Orthodox) allow infants to receive Communion? Do infants have more understanding than this seven year old boy? Hardly.

The parent's have accused the Church of discrimination and to be honest, I don't know what else to call such an unmerciful act. Perhaps, spiritual abuse? Maybe evil? Or as some have argued, merciful for not indoctrinating a kid into a faith which still allows such medieval thinking? I really don't know. Obviously this is just one diocese in one country, but it is still disturbing, especially to those of us who have watched the TV interview and seen a boy who, though disabled, really loves life -- is he inattentive? Sure! Did it even look like he wanted to moon the camera? Perhaps. But then life should be joyous and a bit silly -- especially when you're seven!

If religious people stopped worrying about being "anti-abortion" and even anti-contraception (like Rick Santorum) and started being pro-life in the same manner in which this boy is, perhaps Christianity would begin to regain a bit of the credibility which it has lost due to its past insanity and wickedness. Of course, that would mean Christians would have to stop worrying about man made regulations, doctrines, and even certain Biblical texts and admit that the Church makes mistakes. Will Christian do this? Nah, its just easier to prevent handicapped children from taking Communion and then justify one's evil actions in one's own eyes!

Friday, January 20, 2012

20 below

Well, my prediction was wrong. We stopped at "only" 20 below zero F. :) Keep in mind these are actual air temps and not wind chills. That's all for now, until something more profound . . . .

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winter has finally arrived!

I know, I know -- I've not been blogging as much as I should have. In fact, I'm going to try to make more of a habit out of blogging even if the posts are short are about the weather -- like this one!

It's not that I have nothing to say, it's that I never seem to find the time to say it. Yes, that's a terrible excuse, but hopefully my absence will make more sense to all my readers in the coming weeks. 

Anyway, those of us in the northwoods of Wisconsin have been waiting all winter for -- well, winter. It's finally arrived, at leas the temps have. Still skimpy on the snow. This morning the air temperature was -20 F, with a high of -2 F. Right now the temp is -10 F and I'm predicting a low temp. of -23 below! We'll see how accurate I actually am. It's cold but it is January in the northwoods. Of course, we still desperately need more snow so winter activities like cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and snowmobiling are possible. Right now, it's hard to find enough snow to even go sledding, but I think we may have "just enough" for that now.

So, that's it. Not my typical religious or politically centered post, but then again it is cold -- and that's sort of news worthy to those of us who care about such things.

That's all for now,

Stay warm everyone!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Latest blog in Superior Telegram

My latest blog post was published by the local newspaper, The Superior Telegram and will be available to read for free on their website for one week.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's resolution or life resolution?

It's that time of year again – a time when millions of people make their New Year's resolutions, keep them for three weeks, and then forget all about them. Personally, I never make New Year's resolutions. I never have. Even as a kid I always thought, “shouldn't we be making resolutions every single day?” New Year's Day is just another day like any other, why bother picking THAT day to make a promise to one's self which one doesn't really intend to keep?

Well, this year I actually did make a New Year's resolution -- sort of. Actually I made it a few days before Christmas. Right in the midst of all of the Holiday hustle and bustle I decided that I wanted to “make more time” for the important things in life, namely being with and doing things for people I care about and love. Perhaps this Holiday season made me overly emotional. Or perhaps I just wised up and realized that things may not always be as they are. Or perhaps I concluded that doing something for someone, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, may help make a difference in their life, as well as mine.

Unfortunately we're sometimes too poor, too busy, and even too ill to do things for and with others. All are valid excuses, but it is far too easy to turn a valid excuse into a reason to procrastinate. We tell ourselves that there's always next week, next year, or the worst excuse of all, “I have time.” But do we? Do you? Do I? To be honest, I don't know and neither do you! Yes, most of us know that “time is short” and that we have but one life to live, but knowing a bunch of facts in our head is totally different than actually putting that knowledge into practice.

Due to a chronic illness I've suffered with for the last four years, I haven't always had the physical stamina to do certain things at certain hours of the day –and I fear I may have used that as an excuse to not be there for people. Sometimes it was a valid excuse, but was it always? I do not know. Fortunately, my health is improving and my stamina is returning. Will it stay? Who knows. Will it be there each and every day? Probably not, but what was not possible two years ago is becoming possible now. And when it is possible I'm going to take that opportunity and do my best to be with and do for those I care about and love.

Now, I may not be able to do “big” things for people. I may not be able to spend days and weeks sacrificing my time and loose change for everyone I know. That of course is not the point. One need not cook a huge meal, spend loads of money, quite one's job or ruin one's health to do something for your loved ones. It's not about the “big” things because it only takes one small thing to make a difference in someone's life. We must not fall into the trap of deciding that since we're incapable of doing something “big” for someone, that we won't do anything at all. That's a cop-out to give ourselves permission to do nothing.

People always say that, “if I had a million dollars I'd help them out!” but the people who are worth doing for in the first place don't want your money – they want you! They want you to be with them, to spend time with them, and to be there for them in their good and bad moments. Of course I would love to be able to do the “big” things for people – and if I had a million dollars I'd do just that. Unfortunately life is too short to wait until you have that million dollars because chances are you'll never have it.

Don't wait until you have that spare million. Don't wait until next Christmas to be nice to your neighbor. Don't wait until someone's birthday to greet them again. And don't wait until you (or they) are too old to appreciate the time which you spend with them. Do not torture yourself – emotionally, financially or physically – but at the same time don't wait for a better day to be with and do something for someone, for there is no better time than the here and now.

This is my life resolution – may it be one which I practice till the end of my days.