Who Needs Miracles?

April 12, 2009

It is Easter Sunday and I have some questions for all of us:

Did Jesus really have to die on a cross and arise from the dead to get us to accept his message?

Did Jesus really need to change the water into wine to convince us that we should love one another?

Did Jesus really need to walk on water to get us to recognize the love of God?

Did Jesus really need to feed the thousands with a few loaves and fishes to make us realize that the Kingdom of God is in our own hearts?

Did Jesus really have to heal the leper, give sight to the blind, and cast out demons in order for us to believe the things he had to say?

Did we even listen to what He had to say?

I believe Cecil B. DeMille and other Hollywood film makers have led us astray. Unless the Mississippi River is parted to allow a baby to be saved from drowning, we don’t see it as a miracle.

All we have to do is look at that new born baby and think about the complexity behind his or her birth – that’s the miracle!

Walk across a room with a full glass of water and think about how your brain and body react to each step to keep you from spilling the water. Then think about what it would take to create a robot that could achieve that same control.

Personally, I think we spend so much time contemplating the miracles that we lose sight of why Jesus came to earth.

Several years ago I was asked to write the words for a song. I was encouraged to put myself in the shoes of someone else and write words accordingly. The people who requested this knew that I spent a lot of time with the homeless; they expected something from that perspective.

I did a lot of praying on this, and found myself writing the following words:

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I know I have been there to share your pain; I’ve shared in your happiness too.

I’ve walked by your side through sun and rain, nothing have I refused for you.

I have put your needs above my own, fed you and dressed you it’s true.

My life I have lived for you alone, now this, I’m asking of you.

Don’t praise me in words, don’t praise me in song

Don’t praise me at all in these ways.

Just love one another as I have loved you

And honor my Father always… always.

I died on the cross to give you life; I’ve shown you that death has no sting.

I’ve born all your burdens, all your strife; I’ve proven my Father is King.

Now I ask that you do as I do. Sing your praise by doing God’s will.

Your actions will tell me all about you. So this I’m asking you still

Don’t praise me in words, don’t praise me in song

Don’t praise me at all in these ways.

Just love one another as I have loved you

And honor my Father always… always.

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The words were later set to music by a friend from Puerto Rico, Angel “Cucho” Garcia. We performed it once in front of a group involved with Cursillo. They liked the music, but felt the words were too harsh. They insisted we should be praising God and Jesus.

I beg to differ. Anyone who constantly says, “Praise the Lord” and ignores the teachings of Christ is a person who continues to miss the message.

Jesus put it as simply as he could.

Love God, and love one another.

If we all followed those two simple commandments, there truly would be peace on earth.

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Church: Why Bother?

January 24, 2009

I was raised by ‘God Fearing’ parents. They did little overtly to demonstrate their faith, yet they instilled something in me.

Some might say they taught me “Christian values”, yet I’ve known some Jews and atheists who could leave me in their dust when it comes to following the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. That’s not to say my parents didn’t do a good job; my point is to question the “Christian” label. I’d rather think of people who act in a good manner as simply being good people.

So, my parents did a good job of teaching me to be a good person. As for church, that whole realm is a mystery to me.

I’m guessing my father was raised in some sort of Protestant church. I’m also guessing that my mother came from an Irish Catholic background. I can say neither with certainty because my grandparents had all died before I was born.

On second thought, I’m not sure about my mother being raised Catholic; she said some things that would lead me to believe she either had a bad experience with the Church, or certain members of it.

In any case, the only time my parents ever set foot in church during my lifetime was for weddings and funerals. Yet they insisted that my brother and I attend Sunday School each week. If we ever feigned illness to avoid Sunday School, we were told, “If you’re too sick to go to church, you’re too sick to go out to play.”

As I recall, mom and dad read the Sunday paper as we fulfilled our weekly obligation.

I may be wrong about them never attending. For a few years I was a boy soprano in the children’s choir. They might have gone to hear me sing. I honestly don’t remember.

It was my parents who encouraged me to go to the church on Saturdays and help Mr. and Mrs. Maschi do the cleaning. The Maschis were an elderly couple who worked for the church as janitors. They often tried to pay me for my help, but I felt I was working for the Lord and should not accept pay. Of course, I was always glad to stop by their house and eat the cookies and cakes Mrs. Maschi made for me.

Once my brother and I were old enough to not be intimidated by our parents admonitions, we quit going to church. I’m not sure why I didn’t want to go; I have many fond memories and I even went so far as to be confirmed as a Presbyterian.

As a senior in high school, a friend of mine (who happened to be a girl, but wasn’t my ‘girl friend’ until later in my life) talked me into joining the choir at her church. Cheryl Thornberg had heard me singing and thought I’d be a good addition to the choir. I believe she was an alto.

During my tenure there, they hired a new minister, the Reverend Mr. John Latta. John was the first minister I really got to know well. I had a lot of respect for him… especially when he helped form a men’s softball team. He played third base and at most games we had to pull him out of a fight. What do you know – a minister who was also human!

It was John Latta who inspired me to think about becoming a minister. I spoke with him and he sent me to talk to another minister. I believe the second man’s name was Ron Napier. That’s when I learned that a college degree was required for anyone wishing to enter a Presbyterian seminary.

That’s what convinced me to go to college.

Four years later, I was engaged to marry a Roman Catholic girl who didn’t try to convert me. I had dated a different Catholic girl who was constantly trying to convert me. When I told her that if I became Catholic I would enter the priesthood, she drop her demands.

Eventually I did convert to Catholicism for the sake of my three sons. However, the conversion failed to change me ways. Over the years I’d become a Presbyterian who didn’t go to church. I then became a Catholic who didn’t go to church.

In the early 1980s I finally received my calling. Actually, it was the choir director. My wife had told her I could sing and I was asked to join the choir. In 1984, I received a second call; I was invited to attend a Cursillo weekend.

Catholics call it Cursillo, but other denominations have their own version of the three day renewal weekend. Tres Dias (three days), Via de Cristo (the way of Christ), and Walk to Emmaus are some of the names used for the weekend that changed me into a regular church goer.

The thing that turned the trick was witnessing the love that is the backbone of a church community. I soon discovered that involvement in church activities is addicting – the more one does, the more one wants to do.

Fortunately, my bride (wife number two and last) has the same feelings about the church community. We are probably too involved, but we’ve made some wonderful friends and know we can count on any and all of them to be there if we’re ever in a jam.

So, for those of you who are like my parents and me (up until 1984), I suggest you give a church a try. Of course, if you don’t believe in God, you’re facing a severe handicap; most folks who attend church do believe in the Big Guy (or Gal).

And for those who do believe and do attend the services, I invite you to take the next step. Get more involved! The weekly services are only the beginning. Attend a Bible (or Torah or Koran) study; join the women’s guild or men’s club; offer to help out with the youth group; join the choir – or bell choir if you can’t carry a tune.

Offer to help preparing the weekly bulletin or monthly newsletter. Consider Stephen Ministry or become part of the maintenance or cleaning crew. Get to know the other members of your church.

As for ‘God Fearing’, I think that’s another of those awkward descriptions. I have no fear of God at all. In fact, I never feared my parents… even when I knew I was in for a spanking.

I like to think of God as a loving parent who doesn’t get angry when we don’t go to church. He or She would just feel better if we did.

So, even if you go to church just to be with your friends, I’m sure God would be glad to see you.


Bring on the FAIR Tax

January 5, 2009

I’ve spent a good part of the last three days poring through receipts preparing to turn the entire mess over to a tax accountant.

The only part of the tax code I understand is the part that says I can deduct losses from my investments. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but if I can get a few tax dollars returning to my pocket, it will make the losses a little bit easier to bear.

There was a time when doing my taxes was fairly simple and I always did it myself. That all changed when I left IBM and became self-employed. It’s rather ironic that when I began to make less money, I had to hire someone to help me determine how much of my money would be sucked in by the various government entities.

At the end of my first year of self-employment, I decided to try to do the tax returns myself. It didn’t take long before I was totally confused. Fortunately, a good friend (Glenn Keen) who I’d met through the Cursillo (Christian Renewal) Movement happened to be an accountant. I went to him for help.

My original plan was to let Glenn do the first year. Then, after studying what he’d done, I’d be able to return to doing it myself.

Wrong! I’ve now been studying his work for over fifteen years and I still can’t make heads or tails out of it. I guess that’s why he’s called a ‘professional’!

I also have to admit that my financial life has become much more complicated in those fifteen years. In 1998 I began collecting my half of my pension from IBM. As a self-employed/retired person, I had to pay double social security on my contracting income and a lesser amount on my pension. I also had to make quarterly estimated tax payments since none were withheld from my contractor checks.

If you’ve read the Fair Tax Book, you’d know that there was a time when no taxes were deducted from anyone’s paycheck. That was when the taxpayer was periodically smacked in the face with the reality of how much the government was taking out of his or her pocket. Then the government started the payroll deductions and began stealing our money a little at a time.

In 1999 I remarried. My current bride had (and still has, thank God!) a full-time job. Thus, when it came to tax time, we had to include income from full-time employment, self-employed contracting checks, and a pension.

About a year later, I became the Southeastern U.S. sales representative for the Laser Golf game – a product developed in Australia that was one of the first virtual-reality computer games. It came with computer software, a sensor that was placed on the floor, and a golf club-like device that shined a light over the sensors as one took a realistic swing at a golf ball. The computer would then calculate the club speed and angle and send the ball down the fairway (or into the rough) in a simulated fashion.

It’s a wonderful game that is terribly over-priced. In three years, I managed to sell four or five of them. Had that been my only source of income, I would’ve been forced to turn to yet another source of income – welfare.

About three years ago I tried my hand at selling ads for the 400 Edition magazine. I should have learned from the golf game… I am not a salesman.

Last year Lu decided to try her hand at selling. She is now a full-fledged Mary Kay Beauty Consultant. Her sales performance has been much better than mine, but thus far, we’ve sunk all of her profits back into the business. We’re hoping that in years to come, she’ll have built up a good customer base and we’ll be able to spend some of her profits on more personal things… like food.

This past April, I began receiving Social Security payments. Needless to say, that additional income – combined with a better year of contracting work – has helped us pay off some nagging debts and raised our comfort level somewhat. However, watching our retirement nest egg shrivel up has made it perfectly clear that we’ll both need to continue working for some time to come.

In the meantime, the additional sources of income combined with the woeful losses in our investments means that, once again, I have to rely on Glenn to figure out how much of my money the government gets to keep.

That’s why I keep saying, “Bring on the FAIR tax!” If you’re not familiar with the Fair Tax, I encourage you to read the information on their web site or read one of the books that have been written about it.

I’ve contacted some members of Congress who oppose the Fair Tax. When I read their reasons for being against it, it was obvious that they have not taken the time to study the legislation.

Do yourself a favor, take the time to do what your representative may be too busy to do. Then, if your representative is one of those opposing the bill, drop him or her a line. If he or she still refuses to support it, maybe he or she needs to be dropped. The 2010 election isn’t that far off.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still have to run the numbers on Lu’s Mary Kay business.