Thursday, November 29, 2012

Little Child wants to climb into manger early

Let's talk about a particular Christmas tradition.


There is one in  my church  and likely yours that creates frustration.


No Christmas songs until Christmas day.


On the surface this seems to make sense.


After all Advent is about waiting.


Waiting for the Savior to arrive.


Some of you reading will see me as an impatient little kid who wants those Christmas presents… Now!


That's not it.


Sometime in November,  the Christmas music starts surrounding us.


Radio stations go nuts with it, especially on the FM dial.


Restaurant sound systems.


Even the Muzak playing in the background at the bank.


By the time Advent actually begins in early December, we are immersed in holiday melodies.


Meanwhile back at your local parish, we launch into a couple of tunes about waiting.


Oh Come Oh Come  Emmanuel.


Something wonderful is on its way.


Outside of church the really beautiful Christmas songs continue to engulf us.


I  love some of the modern renditions of classics like Oh Holy Night.


Back to church again the following Sunday.


More Oh Come Emmanuel.


Back out into the real world.


Target plays a poignant version of O Little Town Of Bethlehem and I am grateful for the Redeemer.


Back to church again.


More Emmanuel.



In my car, a Christian  radio station  delivers 100 hours of uninterrupted Christmas carols and we are still a couple of weeks away from the big day.


Finally Christmas actually arrives and our local churches unwrap the Christmas music.


The problem is that the churchgoers by now  have been assaulted by the shopping mall's onslaught of Christmas tunes.


As a result, the  impact of those songs at church is lost.


By December 27, my wife has disassembled the tree and moved on to planning for the next holiday.


During this period, Sunday worshipers try to keep  things going.


Even though we've been turned into zombies, bludgeoned into a post-Christmas stupor by the likes of Michael Jackson, the Beach Boys, and the Carpenters.


Here's all that I'm asking.


Church leaders, give us at least a morsel of some of the more subdued Christmas hymns to sing during Advent in order to get us in the right spirit.


No one's going to die if Silent Night or Away in a Manger are softly intoned like snowflakes gently decorating a pasture.


Imagine the inspiration of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear as your congregation  envisions the City of David  in the weeks leading up to that first Christmas.


Men of the cloth, it's not your fault but the world we live in is so oversaturated with Christmas music that by the time you allow it in the church, it feels a little anti-climactic.


Anyway, consider this column to be my one-man petition to let baby Jesus softly poke his nose into your church during the Advent season.


I assure you that the roof of the church will not come crashing down into the sanctuary.


Andy Williams and Burl Ives are stealing your thunder.


Let's take it back.




Thursday, November 22, 2012

Answer: An irritating Canadian. Question: Who is Alex Trebek?

Errant thoughts.
Here are a few.
I heard an ad on the radio the other day  for a car dealership called "Collection Auto Group."
Collection Auto Group?
Next they'll open a franchise called Repossession Chevrolet.
Why do they call it evaporated milk?
When you open the can, it pours out in liquid form.
When did it evaporate?
What am I supposed to do when the automated voice at the self check-out register tells me to place the item in the bagging area when I already have?
When did men's razor blades become so expensive and rare?
You must extract razor blade packages from an extra high-security dispenser  frequently requiring a manager to unlock the dispenser before it is activated.
No wonder beards are the rage.
I love the English language.
That's why I am irritated by its abuse.
For several years now,  service providers at coffee shops and other places have called out the following phrase.
"Can I help who's next?"
The proper usage is "Can I help the person who is next?"
Please America, love your lattes but love your language more.
How do ballclubs manage to call a timeout precisely when TV shows on other channels are airing a commercial?
Why is Alex Trebek so annoying?
He pronounces every French phrase with a snooty condescending flair.
He wants to remind us that we are unsophisticated hicks also known by another name.
I want to slap him.
Why do you have to pay hundreds of dollars for a wooden casket for a cremation?
We all know that Uncle Louie is going up in smoke.
While he is in the box.
Use cardboard.
Why do I feel guilty about not putting money in the basket at church when we've signed up for our parish's auto payment  which deducts the weekly contribution  from my checking account?
My wife says I don't want the usher or other observers to think I'm stiffing the good padre.
I think she's right.
Have you been to a restaurant chain called "Steak and Shake" ?
You can get a shake but steak is not on the menu.
A steakburger is not a steak.
It's a hamburger.
Change the name.
Regarding a product called "I can't believe it's not butter".
I've tasted it.
It does not taste like butter.
Believe it.
Do you know how they harvest cranberries?
They float to the top in giant ponds called bogs.
Men in chest-high rubber boots tramp around the bogs scooping up  the delectable berries and corralling them into collection machines.

Those rubber boots remind me of  fishing trips a neighbor used to take in Canada.
He and those stinkin' boots would return from up North reeking of fish.
They sat in the garage all year long until it was time to return to moose country for another round of swilling beer and trying to catch bass.
In my mind, cranberries equal rubber boots.
Makes you think twice about that cranberry sauce doesn't it?
Happy holidays.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Unforgettable Images of an Unforgettable Wedding Ceremony

This column contains some disturbing elements.
Be warned.
Sometimes images are so jarring that they become seared into our psyche.
Always lurking just below the surface of our consciousness.
Imagine a  bucket of water with ice cubes.
You can push the cubes to the bottom but they eventually make their way to the top.
I enjoyed officiating at weddings during my time as Mayor of Euclid.
It was great to share in someone else's joyful moments.
Anyway, this one was unusual.
I was asked to come to the bride's home for the ceremony.
Her dad was ill and couldn't get out of the house.
If you can't get to the wedding, bring the wedding to you.
The bride was stunning in her ivory lace down, the groom lovingly gazing upon the woman he planned to grow old with.
Dad sat in his wheelchair.
But he was dying.
The bride's father had mouth  cancer.
It had spread.
His mouth was eaten away.
He had no lips left.
My hand is shaking as I write this.
The upper left portion of his cheek had no skin.
Only pulsating tissue.
Veins and bone  exposed.
An IV supplied painkillers.
My mind raced trying to organize these fearful visuals.
Emotions began to seize up within me.
I remember thinking that face was reminiscent of Lon Chaney as the Phantom of the Opera unmasked.
It was chilling.
Dad's eyes were glassy, staring straight ahead.
Was there enough life left in him such that he knew that right in front of him his little girl was beginning a new life with her dashing young husband?
I was overcome with compassion.
I was ashamed that I had experienced horror.
There was a lot of love in that room.
All kinds of love.
Between lovers.
Between siblings.
Deep love for a dad  slipping away into eternity almost during the ceremony.
I looked at the bride.
Can you read a face?
I could that day.
The bride's face said I love you Dad.
Don't worry.
This new man will take care of me.
And by the way, I'll never forget you.
I'll never stop loving you.
I regained my composure and led the couple through their vows.
I felt the presence of God.
And I'll never forget those images.
All those feelings.
Love your family.
Love them with such fervor that the love survives all things.
Don't be embarrassed to show your love.
Be  gaudy in  the expression of love.
Let the memory of love be so loudly proclaimed that it becomes a bridge to the time when you are reunited.
Reunited with a terrific dad.
Or with a daughter who made a lovely bride.
A bride who can't wait to tenderly kiss her father again in heaven.
In a place without pain or suffering.
A place where love continues.
But remember this.
For love to continue there, you've got to express it here.
Those images haunt me.
And they remind me to love.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

You are never alone: He'll show you the way out

Today I got locked in a church.


I'm still trying to figure it out.


St. Casimir  on Neff road has a mass at 7:30 AM weekdays.


Attendance is usually sparse: 8 to 12 folks looking for spiritual sustenance  before the tasks of the day seize their focus.



We are all strangers momentarily joined together by faith.


There is a palpable sense of family.


We sense that we are all praying for each other.


We are telling each other "I've got your back".


Great comfort in that.


Anyhow, I lingered after mass ended around 8 AM.


Short sermon.


A couple of other worshippers carried on a conversation in the pews, whispering concerns about something that weighed heavy on their hearts.


Maybe a serious illness.


Maybe family problems.


I paused to offer a few extra prayers in front of the shrine to the Virgin Mary tucked away on a side altar left of the sanctuary.


Ten minutes passed quickly and I turned to leave.




All the other stragglers had departed.


An eerie feeling.


Holy statues seemed alive around me.


I soaked up the quiet.


Savored the solitude among reminders that I am not alone.


I pressed against the push bar to exit the side door.






No problem.


Surely not every door was sealed shut.


I was confident that whoever locked up must've noticed me in my reverie.


They would never just lock me in.


But they did.


Every massive  oak door locked tight.


Cell phone left in my car.


I investigated the sacristy.


No phone.


Tried emergency exits.


No dice.


I grabbed a church bulletin.


Next service:  7:30 AM.




What a surprise awaited the pastor  opening next morning to find a bleary-eyed me,  hungry, and needing a shave.



How long do they wait before police start looking for you?


I had a client expecting me at 9 AM.


So I sat.




Man, this is gonna make a great story.


Just then I noticed a cloak room in the back off  of the vestibule.


It was musty and dark with another door in the corner.


This place had more doors than a Chinese jewelry box.


I pushed and suddenly I was outside in the sunlight.


Dr. Deadbolt had missed this one door.


I was a little late for my appointment but otherwise none the worse for the experience.


As a matter of fact, I think I'm better off.


God drives us to the foot of the cross in ways that shake us clear down to our bones.










Occasionally locking you in a church.


Just when you think there's no way out, sometimes he leaves a door open.


Have faith in God.


And then try all the doors.


One might open for you.


One did for me.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Senior Comedy Routine Falls Short of Real Humor

I love  Dorothy's introduction to the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz."


She and the scarecrow begin to lubricate the rusted woodsman with an oilcan.


When he starts leaning to the  right they race to catch him only to discover that he's now tipping to the left.


Just when they've shifted to catch him on the left side he begins falling backward.




Which leads me to  a similar comedy routine I was a part of  the other day in church.


Falling Fred, an elderly gentleman from our parish,  returned to his seat from communion and he began leaning right.


I wanted to yell "Timber!"


Those of us behind extended our arms just as the great oak reversed direction and started going left.


We were like spotters for an Olympic gymnast, bracing ourselves to catch him.


Finally, Fred aimed for his chair and made it.


The crisis passed momentarily until this octogenarian chose to get back up on his feet again.


Let's get a couple of things straight.


Falling  Fred is a prayerful inspiring member of our church.


We  admire  that Fred chooses to venture out of his house instead of staying cooped up  like an invalid.


We like his spunk.


But the truth is that Fred needs someone to escort him because he is so unsure of himself.


His cane  makes him less unsteady.


However, Fred's muscles and joints have become so weak that a slight breeze could take him down.


On the verge of collapsing at any given moment.


Fred venturing out into the world without someone to go with him subjects him to  potential  injury.


Moreover, Fred is not being fair to the rest of us around him.


With his independent jaunts, he is telling shoppers, store clerks, and fellow churchgoers that he is not very considerate.


When Fred goes down, and I assure you that he will go down sometime soon, anyone within 10 feet will be forced by their own sense of compassion to lend a hand by trying  to catch him.


Someone will injure themselves trying to break the fall of Falling Fred.


Freddy, we have great affection for you.


We just don't want to see you get hurt.


And  you are implicitly asking those around you to serve as your at-the-ready emergency technicians because you refuse to get someone to help you.


Years ago Tim Conway won an Emmy playing an old man on the  Carol Burnett show.


He walked very slowly sliding his feet only a few inches at a time along the floor.


 It made for great comedy.


When Falling Fred finally takes a dive, it won't be funny.


I know you have seen a Falling Fred in your travels as well.


Gently tell Falling Fred the truth.


He must recruit  family and  friends  so he doesn't  have to fly solo.


Either tell him or prepare to be pressed into service.


It's not cruel to be honest with him.


He'll suffer more if you drop him.