View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The real pain

A little twist.

Mom is clinging to life. She lapses in and out of lucidity – depending how much medication she is on.

Last night my wife and I visited her.

Mom grew quite agitated.

She kept writing about the will, asking us to shred it or burn it. She asked me to tell my father to contact their lawyer. She was also upset about her IRA and wanted something changed there.

(Remember, she is deaf, and has a tube down her throat, so all communication is in writing. And with her condition, her messages are often garbled.)

Then she added that she had been mad at me.

Ah. It made sense.

I guessed that in a moment of anger at me – a nearly constant state for the last 25 years for a wide variety of infractions (real and imagined) – she had written me out of the will and dropped me as the beneficiary of some or all of her investments. She had probably gotten dad to go along.

Sort of her way to slap me one final time even after death.

As we drove back home (she’s in a facility more than an hour away), I thought about this possibility.

I wouldn’t be surprised if she did do this.

This is a woman who one Christmas drove all the way to our house when we’d invited them for Christmas celebrations with us, then refused to get out of the car. She had my father carry the gifts for my wife, the girls, and me to the door, hand the gifts to me, then get back in the car and drive off. All because she was mad at me about something.

Merry Christmas.

So today I called dad. He asked me to come over to the home where he is.

Sure enough, I had been written out of the will.

I told him I had long suspected she would do something like that, so I had never expected anything anyway.

So it goes.

I’ll still make the drive back to the facility tomorrow.

I’ll smile, and kiss her.

If it gives her some peace, that’s okay by me.

After all, she's the one who's really being hurt in all this.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Mother/diaconate updates

Doctors say my mother came out of the coma, was able to communicate in some limited way (she's deaf, and she has a respirator tube down her throat), then apparently pulled the tube out.

They reinserted the tube. But now they want to know what to do if she does it again.

She left no advanced directives, and she has told no one what her wishes are.

The doctors plan to keep her on the respirator into next week, then to see if she can breathe on her own (albeit, with the air tubes she's had to wear because of her damaged lungs). If she can breathe, great. If not, we have some decisions to make.

I don't know how conscious she is. She chose to undergo treatment in another city more than an hour away.

We are driving there today. I will try to communicate with her.

Meanwhile, my dad (stroke patient in an assisted living facility in yet another town) and my grandmother (in yet another facility in yet another town) are waiting to get news from me (only child - I wish my parents had paid more attention to Church teachings!).

Mom's primary doctor said that if there is a sudden turn for the worse, they would look to me to make a decision.

But the doctor seemed to be suggesting that permanent attachment to a respirator is the most likely outcome at this point.

The doctor also said that mom would have to stay where she is, and not move back to my city, which is nearer to where my father and grandmother are also. She said it's difficult to move a person on a respirator. I'm not sure about that. If the respirator route is the way things go, I'll have to check into moving her because I hate to imagine her alone there with no family around.

I also know that people with her knid of lung damage often don't live long - often their hearts give out from the strain. so moving her may not become an issue at all.

And if she pulls the tube out again and the doctor's call me to ask if they should reinsert it or just let nature take its course, what do is say? I have to see how aware she is.

The sad part in all of this is that our family is so splintered - my mother has been an angry, destructive person for years - I have mixed feelings. Part of me thinks the best thing that could happen for all of us would be for God to take her.

I feel sorry for her as a person who is suffering in this way, and who is so alone, but as my "mother," I feel little love for her.

Obligation is about the best I can manage.

And, of course, she left everything hidden at home. I have to go there this weekend to find the checkbooks for different accounts (there are at least three of them, perhaps four) and the bills, and where she hid her on-hand money, where she hid grandma's money, and where dad hid his money! They were all hiding things from each other.

As for the diaconate, the head of the local program called to see where I was in terms of trying to resolve the impediment. I told him about the situation with my mother.

He said he understood, then added that if the family situation continues and the impediment can't been cleared up this year there was always next year. He said he would pray for me and my family.

At least he's still interested. That's nice.


If I can't deal with my mother's situation with more healthy feelings, what kind of deacon would I be?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Mother's status

The lung cancer treatment proved to be a strain on my mother’s already very damaged lungs.

She lapsed into a coma Wednesday.

They have her on a ventilator. They still hope to wake her.

Seen the light?

1. How many Charismatics does it take to change a light bulb?

One to change the bulb and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.

2. How many Calvinists does it take to change a light bulb?

None. God has predestined when the light will be on. Calvinists do not change light bulbs. They simply read the instructions and pray the light bulb will be one that has been chosen to be changed.

3. How many Armenians does it take to change a light bulb?

All. They need everyone to make sure it stays on. One can never really be sure.

4. How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?


5. How many neo-orthodox does it take to change a bulb?

No one knows. They can't tell the difference between light and dark.

6. How many TV evangelists does it take to change a light bulb?

One. But for the message of light to continue, send in your donation today.

7. How many independent fundamentalists does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one, because any more might result in too much cooperation.

8. How many liberals does it take to change a light bulb?

At least ten, as they need to hold a debate on whether or not the light bulb exists. Even if they can agree upon the existence of the light bulb, they still might not change it, to keep from alienating those who might use other forms of light.

9. How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?

None. They always use candles.

10. How many worship leaders who use guitars does it take to change a light bulb?

One. But soon all those around can warm up to its glowing.

11. How many members of an established fundamental Bible teaching church that is over 20 years old does it take to change a light bulb?

One to actually change the bulb, and nine to say how much they liked the old one.

12. How many United Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?

This statement was issued: "We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that a light bulb works for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb (or light source, or non-dark resource), and present it next month at our annual light bulb Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life, and tinted-all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence. "

13. How many Amish does it take to change a light bulb?

"What's a light bulb?"

14. How many youth pastors does it take to change a light bulb?

Youth pastors aren't around long enough for a light bulb to burn out.

15. How many Southern Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?

109. Seven on the Light Bulb Task Force Subcommittee, who report to the 12 on the Light Bulb Task Force, appointed by the 15 on the Trustee Board. Their recommendation is reviewed by the Finance Committee Executive of 5, who place it on the agenda of the 18 member Finance Committee. If they approve, they bring a motion to the 27 member church Board, who appoint another 12 member review committee. If they recommend that the Church Board proceed, a resolution is brought to the Congregational Business Meeting. They appoint another 8 member review committee. If their report to the next Congregational Business Meeting supports the changing of a light bulb, and the Congregation votes in favor, the responsibility to carry out the light bulb change is passed on to the Trustee Board, who in turn appoint a 7 member committee to find the best price in new light bulbs. Their recommendation of which Hardware Store has the best buy must then be reviewed by the 23 member Ethics Committee to make certain that this hardware store has no connection to Disneyland. They report back to the Trustee Board who, then commissions the Trustee in charge of the Janitor to ask him to make the change. By then the janitor discovers that one more light bulb has burned out.

-Author unknown

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Brother Sun

praise to Brother Sun
who gives light to our day
that we might see

A Franciscan legend

One day full of joy because he sensed God’s presence in all creation, Francis walked the streets of Assisi singing and inviting everyone to sing along with him.

Then he came upon an almond tree.

“Brother Almond,” he said, “speak to me of God.”

And the almond tree blossomed.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

morning haiku (senryu)

stretching and flexing
preparing to face the day -
morning prayers

The beat goes on

A release from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights:


Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, wrote to the KABC (Los Angeles) program director today about a bigoted comment made on September 10 by radio talk-show host Kim Serafin

The following is the text of Donohue’s letter to Burch:

On Saturday, September 10, at the conclusion of her show, Kim Serafin discussed the victims of Hurricane Katrina. She told listeners “a sort of funny story” regarding Catholic Charities. Serafin said that when she was told by someone that he was going to make a donation to Catholic Charities, she answered: “Why? The Catholic Church is totally corrupt and molests young boys, you know.”

This is not humor—it is slander. As such, it is deserving of the same kinds of punitive sanctions that have been visited upon other purveyors of hate speech.

Please be advised that unless justice is swiftly forthcoming, I will take this matter to another level.

Contact information for KABC:

790 KABC TalkRadio
P.O. Box 790
Los Angeles, CA 90016
310-840-4900fax: 310-838-5222

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I pledge allegiance to prayer

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton has ruled that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional.

Specifically, he ruled that the reference to the nation being “under God” violates schoolchildren’s right to be “free from a coercive requirement to affirm God.”

The suit had been brought by atheist Michael Newdow.

The ruling applies only to three specific school districts in California, but higher courts could extend it to a number of states, or, if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the decision, to the entire nation.

Now some religious types might be jumping up and down.

Me? Well, I have my own take.

I stopped reciting the pledge with hand on heart back in 1972 when I was in high school.

That was during the era of the Vietnam War. And Nixon.

I felt that I would be lying if I said our nation was “under God” given some of our nation’s actions at that time, and throughout its history.

Our nation’s behavior at times in the three decades since has done little to change my mind.

Plus, I had no desire to pledge allegiance to a “flag.”

I could pledge allegiance to the ideals on which our nation was founded.

But a piece of cloth?

Yes, I know that cloth is a symbol of our nation.

Yes, I know that we are no better or no worse than some other nations.

Yes, I know all nations have problems, and have been guilty of offences.

If I had a choice of where to live, in fact, the U.S. would still be near the top of my list.

But my faith comes first.

I am a Christian who happens to live in the U.S. If forced to chose, my faith would win.

Thus I have no problem taking a pledge to live “under God.”

It’s the nationalism part of the Pledge that’s a problem for me.

I do support my nation when it is acting justly and generously.

I readily praise my nation is those instances.

Nor do I want to disparage those who are sincerely patriotic. (Though, when it comes to some “patriotic” types, I agree with Samuel Johnson that, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”)

So I don’t go around trying to mock others or to draw attention to my position.

When the Pledge is recited, I stand out of respect for the nation’s ideals and in particular for those who have sacrificed for those ideals.

Out of politeness, in some circumstances I will even mouth the words.

But I don’t say it as a “pledge.”

Maybe if they change the words to something like, “I pledge allegiance to the ideals of liberty and justice on which this nation was founded, and to those who have tried to live out those ideals and to extend them to others, acting under the guidance of God, but always with respect for others’ beliefs and rights,” well, then I might just say the Pledge.

Until then, I will politely stand, and, as I often do, say a prayer instead.

Maybe I’ll say one for Michael Newdow.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Pre-Mass haiku

gray-haired, middle-aged
fat man standing before me -
turn from the mirror

I don't think this is what Jesus meant (haiku)

I'll forgive seven
times seventy-seven times -
just don't you forget

Happy thought

As I sat at Mass this morning, I realized that on Wednesday, choir practice begins.

In two weeks, we will begin to sing at Mass again.

As a bass, I sit in the back row.

So even when I'm in front of the church, I'm singing from the back pew!

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I have not written much lately – except in Santa’s Diary.

Little time or energy – and much on my mind.

My mother is going in for cancer treatments. The prognosis is not good.

My father (a stroke victim) went into an assisted living home (despite my objections that he needed more care than they could offer) because my mother can’t take care of him for now. He believes he will be able to return home in a couple of weeks and she will be able to wait on him hand and foot once again.


And even if she will be able after the treatments to continue as she has since the stroke, wrong.

Anyway, after a couple of weeks, the assisted living people have told him he needs more than they can offer (gee, am I prophetic!), and now he expects me to help him find a new place.

Something I’d offered to do two months ago when school was out and I had the free time.

He wants another assisted living place.

What he needs is a full nursing home. Of course, he won’t listen to me.

Meanwhile, school has started. I’m the lead teacher and principal.

What is sleep?

There are a few other weights on my mind and soul. I won’t get into them now.

But one of the upshots of all that is going on is that the diaconate seems beyond my reach - at this time, or, realistically ( given my age and the long-term nature of some of this stuff that's piling up), ever.

Too bad I’m not a drinking man!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Shameless self promotion

I have an other blog - Santa's Diary. The link is on this page. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Sunday haiku

breezy Sunday -
the translator for the deaf
waves her limbs in praise

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Sharing the blame

The tragedy along the Gulf Coast - and especially in New Orleans - continues to unfold.

The loss of life, the suffering, the devastation to homes and business, the ecological and economic effects, are still beyond our ability to measure.

We need to pray. Many people are. We must continue to do so.

We need to help. Across the nation - and the world - people are responding magnificently with offers of money and supplies and so much more. Many of the people in New Orleans have also been helping each other in inspirational ways.

But, being Americans, many of us have, naturally, begun to to complain and blame.

There certainly is plenty of blame to go around.

Emergency planners have been warning for years about the potential for a problem in New Orleans if a major storm hit. Some efforts did get underway - and to be honest, changes will take years and probably could not have been completed in time to avoid what happened. But local, state and federal officials consistently failed to give the situation the serious attention it needed. (The buck stops with both Presidents Clinton and Bush for this failure).

Officials were slow to respond once the crisis began.

City and state officials in Louisiana and New Orleans asked people to evacuate New Orleans before the storm hit. Some of the poor, elderly and sick could not get out in time - the blame lies with the government not acting to help them, not with these people. But some people obstinately refused to leave even when they could have.

Some people have used the crisis as an opportunity to loot and brutalize others in the ravaged areas - and to scam people beyond the region. Stealing food and water is one thing - I don't blame anyone for that in such a situation - but televisions and computers, and raping and shooting and beating their fellow survivors?

However, there are some targets for blame I think are being overlooked.

Public officials have failed to address the infrastructure problems in New Orleans that could have lessened the current crisis - true.

One of the reasons they failed to deal with problems like inadequate levees and the needs of the poor was cost.

It would have taken billions to make the changes emergency planners have been calling for for more than a decade. It would have meant massive outlays of money to address the social and health needs of the poor.

But the added spending would have meant raising taxes, and raising taxes means losing elections because the voters have made it clear they won't stand for it. Indeed, budgets for agencies trying to prevent such a crisis were cut to help keep the voters happy.

So shame on us voters.

Shame on us who have consistently put our pocketbooks above the need to prepare for such disasters. Shame on us who preferred to see our taxes cut so we can buy that gas hog SUV and take that Disney World vacation or Carribean cruise rather than accepting the social responsibility for addressing the needs of the poor and the sick and neglected in our midst.

The irony is that as we watch the terrible images on our televisons we are all now full of compassion for many of the same poor, sick and neglected folks we have tried to ignore for years.

And we are even more upset because we have to pay more for gas to feed those gas hog SUVs.

I also heap a lot of blame on the media.

I say this having worked for 13 years as a print journalist (before returning to teaching) and for 20 years as a weekend radio announcer/newscaster.

I have been watching the media milk this crisis. They schedule special reports to repeat the same footage and interviews endlessly.

Then they show and play them again later, just in case we missed them the first six times.

They have tried to shape responses to fit their own slants - usually critical of the Bush administration (though, often with justice).

I remember one morning one network found a statement that fit its critical view of the administration, so reporters asked individual after individual about the statement. The next day, they lead with the statement as their focus for their broadcast, quoting those who went along with their view, but not playing the comments from people who challenged the statement or pointed out its incompleteness.

By and large, the mainstream media failed to do the in-depth reporting that might have alerted us to these potential problems earlier. They have devoted more space to talk show hosts who were denied the right to shop at a store, or to the pretty movie star who ditched his pretty televsion star wife for another pretty movie star than to reporting about issues that really matter.

Of course, they will say they are just giving their readers and viewers and listeners what they wanted.

That's an excuse that does not lessen their blame, but they have a point.

Many of us would rather focus on fluff than on substance.

We'd rather hear gossip about celebrities than the facts about the poor in our midst.

We'd rather learn about drugs to improve our sex lives than about the high cost of medicine for the uninsured and underinsured.

We'd rather discover secrets that will make us more beautiful - with minimal effort - than on dealing with the blighted and polluted parts of our cities.

We'd rather have cable and satellites and the internet so we can lose ourselves in entertainment than on making the effort to interact with other people outside our immediate circles and learning about them.

So in the end, I blame us.

The sad thing is, eventually the images of the poor people of New Orleans will go away, and we will once again ignore them.

Eventually the concern about inadequate emergency preparedness will fade away as we focus on such issues as who will be in the World Series and the Super Bowl, and which of the desperate housewives will get into the most embarrassing sexual situation this year.

Eventually, another crisis will hit, and we will wake up from our social, spiritual and cultural naps once again to hurl blame at someone else.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

From the back pew - The Greatest Hits

In today’s paper, there was an article about greatest hits albums.

The article points out that in recent years, “greatest hits” or “best of” albums no longer necessarily mark long careers or contain the top-rated or socially significant songs by performers.

Instead, we have collections be people who have only been recording for a few years, or only have a couple of albums out. Some haven't even really had hits. The list in the article included the likes of Hilary Duff, Mandy Moore, Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys, Martika, and O.D.B.

I also work in radio, and I know that many of those weekend shows labeled “The Best of…” are really just regular shows recorded during the week so the station would have something to fill the air time.

Basically, it’s all hype and manipulating perceptions.

Anyway, I figured if they could do it, so can I, even if this blog is only five months old.

I looked back over my entries, and picked some that jumped out at me. They aren’t necessarily the best written, or the most profound of my pieces. Heck, as I looked back I even found typos in some of them. They’re just pieces I particularly like or that got some reactions.

So here’s my list of pieces I’d include on “The Best of `From the back pew’”

Boycott Starbucks? Well... (August 20)

Coffee. Mmmm.

NARAL lie? Heaven forbid! (August 11)

The Roberts ad.

Women priests? (Revised slightly) (July 31)

Slow and steady?

Hero? (July 26)

A Lance limerick.

Wedding bells (July 17)

My oldest daughter marries.

Watch out, I get preachy! (July 13)

Everybody does not love Raymond.

Walmart ate my blog! (June 25)

A certain Supreme Court decision.

And the winner is.... (June 6)

Democracy in the Church.

Before Glory and Praise (May 29)

Ah, musical memories.

Is that a fly in my soup? (May 11)


Goodbye Hannah (May 5)

The death of a pet.

A not-so-divine comedy (May 1)

Dante in the rectory.

Conclave haiku (April 18)

Soon to be published!

Miracle attributed to John Paul II (April 9)

There’s a sucker born every minute.

Your full-service Planned Parenthood (April 8)

From conception to death.

The patron saint of March Madness (March 24)

A slam dunk.

Exodus – Sunday Mass style (March 21)

Bye. Bye.

St. Drithelm: Dead man tells tales

According to my 1985 concise edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, today is the feast of St. Drithelm.

(His name is also rendered as Drythelm in some sources, and his feast day is listed as August 17. But I’ll use the book on my shelf.)

St. Drithelm lived in Northumbria in the seventh century. He’s described as “mature” and a rich and religious family man.

(I smell a midlife spiritual crisis in this.)

Around 693, he was thought to have died.

(A lot of husbands look like that on the couch.)

But the next day, when mourners surrounded his bier, he suddenly sat up, scaring the daylights out of all of them except his wife.

(Maybe she had seen him on the couch on Sunday afternoons before.)

He declared that after all he had seen of the afterlife, he was going to change his ways. So he divided his property in thirds among his wife, his children, and the poor, and ran off to become a monk.

(Divorce, medieval style? But what does supposed death fit under? Irreconcilable differences? Alienation of affection? Pauline privilege?)

He spent the rest of his life praying, throwing himself in cold rivers, and telling people “Boy, if you’d seen what I saw.”

(He must have been a blast at parties. "I’ve seen dead people.” “Let’s all go jump in the river!”)