Thursday, October 1, 2015

Cover me

Last night you went to bed before I did. When I dragged myself up the stairs a half hour later, you were already asleep. I tried to be as quiet as I could getting ready for bed, and slipped under the covers. Except, as you often do, you had rolled over so that the covers did not cover my right side.

I thought for a moment about how to get some more covers without waking you. Then I thought about how it would be if I had the covers all to myself.

And I said a prayer thanking God for you, and went to sleep.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Miserere Nobis

[See UPDATE at the end of this post]

So Pope Francis comes to America for the first time. How do we welcome him?

President Obama arranges for him to be greeted by Gene Robinson, the first gay Episcopal bishop in the U.S., Mateo Williamson, the transgender head of the LGBT "Catholic" group Dignity USA, Sister Simone Campbell, a pro-choice dissenting nun as well as "married lesbian Catholics" (and of course Joe Biden).

While he is here he visits the UN, where Shakira sings "Imagine" for him (you know, "imagine there's no heaven" because the world would rock if we eliminated religion).

Even during mass, at Madison Square Garden, the lector is "Mo Rocca", an "openly gay Catholic." I have to believe that Cardinal Dolan knew who was serving at mass.

The there are those who put themselves above the Pope in matters of the faith and morals, who mock him for what he didn't do enough of (as if the "left" don't already know he is for family and life - their very choice of guests shows that they know that).

Betrayed from within and without, we slap him in the face at every turn, and what does he do? He smiles and looks past it. You may think he's a fool, and maybe he is, but I think he's trying to live out the Gospel as best he can.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem!

UPDATE: So, because it seems people are misunderstanding this I thought I'd add some clarification.

1. I did not say gays are offensive. What I mean is that constantly bombarding Pope Francis with people who claim to be Catholic but do not believe what Catholics believe is in essence mocking him. To use an analogy, suppose Richard Dawkins was coming to America to a conference on evolution, and the welcoming committee was stacked with people who claimed to be scientists too, but believe in young-earth creationism. Then he was serenaded by someone singing about how evolution is responsible for all the evil in the world. I hope you can see that such a thing would be clearly designed to offend or mock Mr. Dawkins. So too, I think the choice of guests and song were intended to mock Pope Francis.

2. Before criticizing Pope Francis for missing opportunities to tell Congress et. al. how bad they are doing, think about the parable of the prodigal son. Or consider when Jesus calls Levi. It's not very effective to tell people how bad they are unless they already understand you love them. I think Pope Francis' evangelization style is to do just that. Tell people God loves you, and we love you too and want you to be happy. It doesn't matter what you've done, it doesn't matter whether you agree with us or not. We love you and will care for you. Loving someone doesn't mean you agree with them, or that you think they are going down the right path, it means you recognize their dignity as a person made in the image and likeness of God.

3. From an interview with Pope Francis on the plane ride home:
When the plane leaves after a visit, I see the faces of so many people. I get the urge to pray for them and say to the Lord, 'I came here to do something, to do good, perhaps I have done wrong, forgive me but protect all those people who saw me, who thought of what I said, who heard me, even those who have criticized me, all of them,' that is what I feel. Excuse me, it’s a bit personal…you can’t say that in the newspapers.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Recently there was a post on Facebook about what you remember about 9/11/2001. Here are some memories I will always have.

I remember my coworkers running across the street to buy a TV so we could watch the news at work.

I remember seeing the smoke plume from a field near my house.

I remember a filthy dirty warehouse where we loaded supplies onto a ferry to go across to the workers searching through the debris.

I remember no planes in the sky.

I remember our parish mourning the loss of almost two dozen people.

I remember us all sitting in mass, tears running down our cheeks as we sang hymns.

I remember friends who moved away because they were "supposed" to have been in the towers that day, and couldn't live and work near New York anymore.

I remember how life stopped for a while.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Opposite Values

Another form the Opposite Files:

Sell bear parts, go to jail.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Living Wage

So here's a little lesson in economics (yes it's going to be simple, but it's my blog). For a company to continue operating it must make a profit. Say my company pays me $100,000 a year. In order to do that I have to, by my work, contribute at least $100,000 in profits back to the company. That contribution could be made in many ways. I could make the company profits by associating my name with it (not me personally, but if I were someone famous). I could do it by making deals, by saving them taxes, by inventing a new widget, or by getting the burgers in the bags.

This is why people get different salaries. If my job makes the company a lot of profit I can demand (and receive) a larger salary. If my job makes the company very little profit, I must be paid a small amount, or the company is losing money by hiring me.

There are jobs, like CFO perhaps, that make the company an awful lot of money, and there are jobs like burger bagger that contribute very little to the company's bottom line.

If the company is going to pay the burger bagger more money then that burger bagger has to make the company that much money. If it takes 6 people to man the burger bistro, and each burger nets $1 in profits, and they sell a burger a minute on average, then they are making the company $60/hour or $10/person. If the company pays those people $15/hour they lose $30/hour for every hour they are open.

Now I'm the last person to say that workers should not earn a living wage. What I am saying is that there are certain jobs that are not worth paying a living wage for. These are the jobs that used to be done by high school kids or part timers looking to make some spending money. The problem is not that companies are paying too little for these jobs, it's that the jobs are not meant to be the sole source of income for a family. The fact that people are taking them to feed their family is another symptom of a failing economy. Fix the economy and the jobs will be there.

The problem is Americans have grown used to cheap stuff. Originally the government was funded by tariffs. That meant that to fund projects the cost of imported goods was kept high enough so that Americans could compete with other countries for manufacturing, and still have a high standard of living. Now the government is funded by taxes on the American people, and foreign goods are so cheap that we have no "living wage" jobs. We need to wean the government off of sucking our hard earned income and put them back on a tariff diet.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sound Bites

From Catholic Memes
I was asked by a Protestant friend what I would say to sum up all of Christianity in one message. What would you say?

I chose John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Clearly this s bare-bones, but to me the message of Christianity is that God loves you, to the extent of giving up His Son, so that He can be with you.

My friend chose Romans 10:9 as the summation of Christianity:
if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
He considers the most important thing about Christianity to be that all you have to do is believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and you are saved, regardless of anything else.

It seems that he, and in fact all of the Protestants that I've met, when discussing the faith, concentrate only on the parts that differentiate them from the Catholic faith. Perhaps this comes from 500 years of tradition of assuming everyone is Christian, and they just need to be taught the errors of their ways if they are Catholic. Perhaps it is a way to keep themselves and their friends from slipping into Catholic ways of thought. But it does make it hard for me to agree with them on any statement of faith, even when quoting the Bible, because the quotes are always cherry picked, out of context, to emphasize something that a Catholic can't affirm.

What do I need to do to be saved? My friend quotes Romans 10:9 and says "that is all." What about Baptism (1 Peter 3:21 "Baptism now saves you") - nobody uses that sound bite, and yet it is equally true. What about Luke 18:22 "go and sell all that you have and give the money to the poor"? I haven't heard anyone quote that as the only thing you need for salvation. Or John 14:21 "Keep the commandments..." Or 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 "evildoers will not enter the kingdom."

The thing is, you can't define something like salvation in a sound bite - even one taken from the Bible. Even though our little modern minds are satisfied with sound bites and memes, reality and God are much more complicated than any one liner. And Amen! How sad would life be if the entire meaning of our existence could be summed up in a sound bite!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Charleston Checks

There are a number of stories that have been circulated about how the Charleston shooter acquired his weapon. They include:

- The boy's father gave it to him as a twenty first birthday present.
- He purchased it legally himself and passed a background check.
- He purchased it legally himself and incorrectly passed a background check due to a mistake in entering data.

Pro-gun people are using all three of these versions of the story to "prove" that background checks don't prevent gun violence. Anti-gun people are using the same stories to "prove" that we need more background checks.

As usual, the truth is more complicated than either narrative.

One of the pro-gun arguments is that even if he had been prevented from buying a gun, he could have used another weapon. I think this is a valid argument in this case. The boy wanted to start a "war" between the races by killing people. Had he not been able to purchase a gun legally he could have purchased one illegally, or he could easily have used a knife, or a homemade bomb, or a molotov cocktail. It is impossible to stop someone who is determined to kill innocent people from attempting to do so. In this case, a background check is entirely useless and irrelevant.

Another pro-gun argument is that if any of the victims had been armed the situation would have been drastically different. In fact, it is likely the shooting never would have happened at all, since the killer (like every other mass shooter) chose a gun-free zone specifically to maximize his ability to kill with impunity. Again, this is a valid argument. Had the church members been armed, they likely would have deterred the boy form opening fire, or at the very least, stopped him. Some have said that because they were Christians in a church they chose to allow themselves to be killed (turning the other cheek, as it were). But the same witness to Christ could have been performed had they been armed, by simply not drawing their weapons. In fact, that situation would have been an even stronger witness. After all, Christ had the power to stop the Crucifixion (John 10:17-18):
"For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

On the anti-gun side, one argument is that we need background checks to cover every transfer of a gun, even a father giving one to his son. This is ridiculous. First off, a similar law was passed in Oregon. It is unenforceable. The image at the top of this article is from a hunter education course,  demonstrating the safe way to cross a fence or other barrier. One person holds both firearms while the other crosses. This is now a crime in Oregon. Likewise dozens of other perfectly legitimate scenarios. Yes, you can add all sorts of exemptions, but you will never cover all the legitimate cases, and all that law does is criminalize innocent behavior of citizens while doing nothing to prevent criminal gun use (do you really think someone intent on murder is going to worry about whether he obtained his weapon legally?).

And such a law is superfluous, as it is already illegal to transfer a firearm to a person who is prohibited from possessing a firearm. So even without expanded background check in place the father would already have been committing a crime in the first scenario (the father gave the son a gun). Adding a law to forbid something illegal doesn't make it any more or less illegal.

In the third scenario the anti-gun people make the argument that although the system failed this time, it did so by accident, and it would have worked had mistakes not been made. That's true, the background check system, if it had been working, would have prevented the boy from purchasing a hand gun legally. But as noted, it would likely have had no effect on the outcome.

That said, I think background checks do have their place. If we have a law that felons can't possess firearms, then we need to identify who is a felon. However, the system we have in place today is both ineffective and unconstitutional. Here's why we need to reform background checks.

First off, the existing background check system can only be performed by a federally licensed firearm dealer. That means if I want to sell a gun to a stranger (or even a friend) I can't be sure they are not a felon. You might say "ban all private sales" but that is not enforceable, and not reasonable. It would be adding a huge burden to the 99+% of legitimate sales, and make guns out of reach to a large segment of the population, who will no longer be able to afford to hunt for food or defend themselves (by my estimation it would add at least $200 to every transfer).

Secondly, the existing system is unconstitutional. All that needs to be done in a background check is to identify whether or not the purchaser is a prohibited person. All that should be required is identifying the person.

Instead, the existing system requires filling out four pages of information, including statements whose only purpose is to violate the fifth amendment, and others which record things like race, ethnicity and political affiliation. The form also records the seller, make, model and serial number of the firearm being purchased, which has no bearing on whether or not the purchaser has committed a crime, but constitutes a de facto firearm registration system, in violation of the law.

Why not have a system which allows anyone to submit identification information and return a simple "yes/no" as to whether the person is prohibited from possessing firearms under the law? This is a constitutional disclosure of public information (certainly less invasive than the sex offender registry), and would allow private sellers to do background checks. Since it is already a crime to knowingly transfer a gun to someone who is a prohibited person, this would take care of all the possible scenarios, without burdening anyone (other than requiring the seller to make a phone call or browse a web page).

Oh, and one other thing. Since these criminals are also barred from voting, it would be a good way to prevent them from voting illegally. If you consider the right to vote as important as the right o bear arms, then it should have the same protections. If we are going to require background checks for firearm purchases we should apply the same background check process to voting.

Would my proposed background check system have prevented the Charleston tragedy? Probably not, but it would at least be constitutional.