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.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Clap for the Wolfgang

Maybe someone at the Vatican had a sense of humor.

Today is Halloween – true – but it’s also the feast day of St. Wolfgang.

He was a monk, missionary, bishop, and educator in Germany in the 10th century.

Among his pupils was St. Henry the Emperor.

Henry, eh? As in Henry Frankenstein?

He also reformed his diocese – including two “disorderly nunneries.”

Scary thought – disorderly nuns. That in itself probably qualified him for sainthood!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Clap for The Wolf Man

Halloween is my second favorite “holiday.”

(Considering I have another blog called Santa’s Diary, you can guess my favorite one.)

I’ve always been fascinated by monsters and things that go bump in the night.

I used to make models of monsters.

I used pictures of the Frankenstein monster in posters when I ran for student government back in high school (“Look what happens when you don’t vote for Lee Strong”).

I’ve written a few horror stories.

One of the best songs I’ve written is called, “There’s a Great Big Monster Under My Bed” (a favorite when I perform for children).

I know, I know. Halloween is a pagan festival. It’s a trap to lure us to the dark side. Etc.

Heck, it’s a chance to get all dressed up, act goofy, and eat lots of candy.

One of our routines is to get out our collection of classic monster movies and watch them.

In the last few days we’ve watched the original versions of The Mummy, The Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein, Dracula, and The House of Dracula.

Last night we watched The Wolf Man.

I noticed something.

In the scene when Larry (Lon Chaney Jr.) begins to suspect something strange is going on, he visits the old gypsy woman. She asks to see the spot where he’d been bitten by a wolf (actually, a werewolf). He opens his shirt and shows the spot.

No tee shirt.

He rushes back to his house, and tears off his shirt.

He’s wearing a tee shirt.

He begins to change into a wolf.

When we finally see him in the woods as the wolf man, he’s wearing a shirt.

He stopped to put on a shirt in the middle of changing into a wolf???

The next morning, he awakes, lying on his bed.

He is wearing the same shirt.

He opens it to look at the pentagram on his chest.

There is no tee shirt.

Ah, continuity.

That’s what they get for messing with the dark side.


Daylight Savings Time

My internal clock says it’s 6:30 a.m.

My dogs’ bladders and stomachs say it’s 6:30 a.m.

The clock says it’s 5:30 a.m.

The world of daylight savings time.

Spring forward, fall back.

For those who don’t live in the U.S., daylight savings time involves turning the clock forward one hour in the spring, and then back one hour in the fall.

I has to do with hours of daylight, etc. I suspect somewhere there was an economic motive.

So here is it, October 30, and my body and the clock disagree.

Perception vs. reality.

Then again, the concept of measured time is in itself a perception. In ancient times, our bodies simply followed the rhythm of the sun.

At the moment, the sun has not risen. I should be in bed.

But my body, that creature of perception, says no.

It occurs to me that our spiritual lives are prey to the perception vs. reality dilemma.

We perceive that we NEED something – a need perhaps fostered by the values of our society – but the reality is that we don’t.

Isn’t faith really about trying to discern what is real, and using reality as a guide?

Of course, perceptions keep getting in the way.

The devil is good at using perceptions.

God offers us reality.

Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind at 6:30 a.m.

5:30, that is.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Jesus on a tree?

Image of Jesus seen on city tree

This is God giving us a sign,' one believer says of silver maple

Greg Livadas
Staff writer

(October 26, 2005) — Call it a cry for peace, a test of faith or a random act of nature, a tree growing on Rochester's North Clinton Avenue so far has attracted several dozen believers who say they see the image of Jesus Christ on the tree's trunk.

"I see it clearly," said Yomaira Otero of Rochester, who stood in the pouring rain Tuesday with six members of her family to see the tree. She spoke in Spanish to her relatives and pointed out the facial features, including the beard of bark she saw. "He looks like he's sleeping."

The "Jesus tree," as some are calling it, is a silver maple growing on the front lawn of the Hickey-Freeman Co. factory at 1155 N. Clinton Ave. It's a few feet from the sidewalk and behind a black metal fence.

The factory, which makes Hickey-Freeman, Bobby Jones and Burberry tailored clothing, has been at the site for 92 years. It sits in the heart of Rochester's infamous "crescent," known for high crime rates.

"It's a sign from God that there should be peace," said Maria Trinidad, who lives on Clifford Avenue. "There is a lot of crime here. People should have faith in God. This is God giving us a sign."

Her daughter, Keila Negron, 13, said she also believed it was a divine sign, but admitted she had trouble visualizing the image on the tree in the rain, which darkened the bark. She vowed to return in better weather and take pictures of the tree.

Jim Holtz, 54, of Greece, said he noticed the image Monday when he stopped in the Cash King pawn shop directly across the street from Hickey-Freeman.

"I was looking out that way as I usually do and saw that on the tree," Holtz said. "I said, 'Am I seeing things?'"

Holtz walked across the street to see whether the image had been spray-painted on. It wasn't.

"I said, 'We gotta get some pictures of this,'" he said, and he contacted the media.

Holtz doesn't know whether the image is a coincidence or a message. He says he believes in God but doesn't regularly attend church.

Karen Marshall, 43, of Rochester also stood on the sidewalk looking at the tree Tuesday. She held newspapers over her head to help keep dry as she pointed out the tree's features to her sister, Ann Manigoult, who had trouble picking out the image.

"We can't physically see Jesus, so we only have signs," Marshall said. "The only way we can know he's here is through signs. He's everywhere. You just have to have faith."

Officials from Hickey-Freeman Co., who were unavailable Tuesday to discuss the tree, so far have tolerated the cars stopping in front of their building and the groups of gawkers on the sidewalk. They aren't sure what else to do because, as the facilities manager said, "there's no protocol for this sort of thing."

Mark Day, 30, a shipping clerk at Hickey-Freeman, took a picture of the tree after seeing others standing outside the factory looking at it.

Day said he believes the tree's design is a coincidence. "I don't think it's a message because God is everywhere," he said.

Doug Mandelaro, a spokesman for Rochester's Roman Catholic Diocese, said he "wouldn't dare to comment on someone else's moment of inspiration or religious experience. Religious experience is and always has been a mystery and very personal."

If you go to the site, you can see an image of the tree. Me? I just see a tree.

Of course, he once was on a tree - but I don't think it was a maple.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A joke

Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem looking for a place to stay.

Joseph went to an inn and spoke to the owner.

“Please, sir, do you have any room?”

“We are full.”

“But my wife is with child.”

“I had nothing to do with that,” the innkeeper said.

Joseph replied, “Neither did I.”

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A kid poem

Cleaning Day

My mother told me, “No more play,
clean your dresser drawers today.”
So I pulled them open wide
This is what I found inside:

Tee shirts, jerseys, lots of socks,
A used tooth pick, assorted rocks,
Three pairs of pants, four pajama tops,
Two very crusty lollypops,
285 pennies, seven nickels, one dime,
A pocket watch that won’t tell time
Two stocking caps, one red, one blue,
Five guitar picks, a bent kazoo,
Nine handkerchiefs, a jingle bell.
A picture of Zelda Blatz (don’t tell!)
An ugly old shirt I’ve never worn,
My favorite sweat pants, stained and torn,
An eye dropper, two keys, a hockey puck,
A half-built model of a monster truck,
My secret stash of candy bars,
Behind two empty pickle jars,
A knitted scarf from Grandma May,
(Why does she like green, pink and gray?)
Pencils and pens, an orange that’s black,
Stale candy corn, a tooth from a yak,
A valentine I forgot to mail,
Some screws, a bolt, a rusty nail,
Two pairs of shorts, an eye glass case,
A mouse’s skull, a lone shoe lace.

Two hours later, “They’re clean,” I said.
(I hope she doesn’t look under the bed!)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Gays priests and Pope Peter ...Heaven only knows

The recent flap over rumors that the Vatican planned to ban homosexuals completely from ordination – which ultimately proved untrue - got me to thinking.

What if the Vatican was itself the source of the rumor?

After all, we’ve seen many politicians do just that sort of thing.

They “float” an idea to see what kind of reaction it gets. If people like it, they propose it. If people don’t, they just say that they never intended any such thing.

An even more Machiavellian tactic is to purposely allow reports of something really horrible to spread to get people upset. Then they release the real proposal that, under normal circumstances, might get some flack, but now gets welcomed almost with relief.

I’m not saying that the Vatican did anything of this sort in this instance, but it is an institution run by human beings. I certainly suspect that in less scrupulous pontificates such things were done.

In this instance, I suspect the speculation had other sources.

Oh, wait, I feel a fantasy sequence coming on….

Jesus and John are sitting in the shade of a tree.

The other Apostles have gone into town to get some food.

“Can I ask you something, John,” Jesus said.

“Anything, Master,” John replied brightly.

“Well, I’ve been thinking about what might happen after I go.”


“Be at peace. I’m not leaving now. But what if I, oh, got arrested or something like that.”

Tears streamed down John’s face.

“They…they couldn’t. They wouldn’t.”

“Of course. But just hypothetically, if I had to go for a while, what do you think of Andrew to run things for a while?”

“He’s just a follower, not a leader.”

“I suppose. Maybe I should put an X through his name. But Thomas, now he’s no follower.”

“Thomas? He’s so negative and cynical. He keeps saying things like “Prove it.”

“Hmm. You have a point. Of course, he is intelligent.”

“So is Matthew, but who’d listen to him.”


“Yes. He was a tax collector. I know he reformed and we’re supposed to forgive and all, but still, some don’t trust him.”

“Who doesn’t trust him?”

“Judas, for one.”

“Ah, yes, Judas. Sharp fellow.”

“Judas? Yes. Everyone respects him. You can count on him to get things done.”

“True, Judas has everyone’s trust.”

“I guess if you have to pick anyone, Judas would be a good one. He’s smart. He’s good with money. You get a sense he knows what he’s doing.”

Jesus chuckled.

“Not like Simon,” he said. “He means well, but …”

John laughed.

“Poor Simon. He keeps messing up. And there’s that mother-in-law of his. Oy! Oh, he tries hard, and everybody likes him, but he’s not the brightest fellow.”

“I like the fact that he acts with his heart and not just his head,” Jesus said.

“Head? Sometimes I think he has rocks in his head.”

Jesus nodded and smiled.

“Rocks? Interesting description.”

“If you want my advice, Judas is your man,” John said.

Jesus sighed. “Yes, I think Judas is capable of playing a bigger role.”

“As for Simon,” John added, “well, heaven only knows what he’ll end up doing.”

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Mother's burial (haiku)

at the graveside
the piper plays “Loch Lomand” –
a break in the clouds

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thank you

I have not responded to all the kind words and offers of prayer as I’ve chronicled my mother’s death.

Let me say now to everyone: Thank you. I really do appreciate it.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Mom haiku

Sunday morning death -
my deaf mother will at last
hear the choir

Jean Strong, 1933-2005

Mom passed away this morning.

I have to go tell Dad, then Nana.

Battle Hymn of the Protestants (a change of pace)

"The Battle Hymn of the Protestants"
(sung to the tune of "Battle Hymn of the Republic")
By Todd Barker, B.D.

The Lord is soon returning all his loved ones he shall find
he will rapture up the Christians and will leave the Pope behind
then Rome shows her true colors and those on the earth will find
that the Pope's the Anti-Christ


Glory, Glory, Christ is coming
Glory, Glory, Christ is coming
Glory, Glory, Christ is coming
to destroy the Anti-Christ

The martyred saints are calling for the vengance of their blood
and are waiting for the judgment to be sent down by their God
at the bloody whore's destruction how the chiors of heaven will swell
when the Pope is cast in Hell

How Martin Luther will rejoice when he shall see that day
and Latimer and Ridly will be cheering all the way
when the Roman Church is burning at the presence of the Lord
as He wields the Spirit's sword

Blaspheme not my holy name I can hear Jesus shout
as he tramples down the Vatican and throws the papa out
then the word of God will triumph and will every foe surmount
on Babylon's judgement day

When I first stumbled across this song on line, I thought this was tongue-in-cheek, but then I went to the home site (

Heck, if I needed any convincing, I only had to read the piece on Santa Claus (that tool, of Satan!).

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The past week with Mom

Last Saturday we picked up Nana (90) at the home where she lives (in another town), and took her to Buffalo to visit mom (her daughter).

The visit went well. Mom woke up enough to have some good moments with Nana.

We then brought Nana back home with us to Rochester. Our plan was for her to stay with us overnight, then to go to Mass on Sunday.

But we found a call from my father on the phone. Seems the doctors had scheduled a meeting on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. No one from the hospital had bothered to call me to ask if that was okay or even to tell me about it, nor did they bother to tell me while I was the hospital on Saturday afternoon.

So Mass plans got cancelled

I went to the Sunday morning meeting. Dad clung to the idea of giving her a tracheostomy if her lungs gave out after taking her off the tube respirator on Monday. We tried to convince Dad that Mom had almost no chance of recovery, and that she would have little quality of life if she had the tracheostomy. He clung to his delusions that they would still return home and all would be as before.

We also agreed to return on Monday to meet with the hospital's ethics committee.

When we went in the room, Mom was in and out. She'd respond to a question clearly, then start asking about people or things that made no sense.

Sometimes she just wrote numbers or gibberish.

She also wadded up note paper and threw a couple of wads at Dad.

The tube came out Monday. Mom didn't have to go back on the respirator tube, but needed a mask - an in-between step. She was still not lucid enough to communicate clearly.

After work, I drove back to Buffalo, picking up Dad at the home where he is staying (wheel-chair-bound stroke patient).

At the ethics committee meeting, we finally got him to recognize that she would not be coming home, and her chances of recovery were almost non existent. The doctors pointed out that given her condition, if we did give her a tracheostomy, she would be unable to communicate with us intellibly, would probably be sedated most of the time, would be confined to an institution, and that would likely only live a few months at most. (Her lungs are so damaged that on their own they only work at about 12 percent. Any lower, and even a respirator won't work.)

He finally said that if the mask system did not work and her lungs gave out, let her go.

Meanwhile, he started with all these plans to get power of attorney. We pointed out that Mom was not lucid enough to sign the documents, but he was adamant, saying there may be a window of lucidity.

In case you wonder, Mom's estate (separate from Dad's) is in six figures.

Dad wants that money.

He knows she cut me out of her will, but he doesn't know who she has chosen instead to inherit.

It might not be him.

(FYI: She had been planning to leave him, but then he had his stroke back in '97. She stuck with him. I remember she told me at the time she would feel guilty if she left him, and she was concerned what people would think. But since then she's taken every opportunity to tell me her feelings about him.)

By the way, on the way to the Buffalo meeting on Monday, my car lost power and conked out repeatedly. I'd been having intermittant problems with it on lengthy drives (around town it's fine), but my repair shop couldn't figure out what was causing it. Maybe a coil that's overheating? They basically said they probably wouldn't be able to figure it out until the malfunctioning part actually fully gave out.

It's not fun being on the side of the NY State Truway in a malfunctioning car with a man in a wheelchair as trucks roar by at 75 mph.

When it conks out, I have to pull over, turn off the engine (if it hasn't already turned off on its own), sit for a minute or two, then restart it and go until it conks out again.

Tuesday, I returned to Buffalo with my youngest daughter, Emily, who had not seen her grandmother in a couple of years. The car conked out eight or nine times.

I was glad that Emily got to see her. She bought Mom a small stuffed cat. Mom cuddled with it and seemed happy to see Emily. A good moment.

After our adventures on Monday, Dad had said I could use my mother's new car - which had all of 1,400 miles on it and had been sitting in their garage.

I've put more than 2,000 miles on my car in the last two weeks alone due to all the back and forth to Buffalo and other communities where my family members live.

On Wednesday, we drove to the town where my parents live and got Mom's car. I will be putting my car into the dealer to see if they can figure out what's wrong with it.

On Friday, Dad and I went back to Bufflao in Mom's car. He asked about the mileage. He was nervous that if I put too many miles on Mom's car he might get less for it when he sells it should she die.

At the hospital, we learned Mom has been pulling out tubes, tugging at her mask, refusing to cooperate. Because she is not rational, they can't get through to her to explain what they are trying to do.

Further, her feeding tube clogged, but they couldn't get her to cooperate to put in a new one, and they can't give her a sedative because that might cause her lungs to give out.

So she hasn't been getting food since Tuesday.

Meanwhile, she keeps writing notes about wanting to go home and to go shopping. She does not respond to questions.

I told the doctor that we spoke to on Friday that while I could accept not using extraordinary means to keep her alive, I objected strongly to not feeding her.

The doctor said she is getting enough nutrition to sustain her through the sugar water in her iv, but they will try to get a feeding tube in on Tuesday.

After all, it's a three-day weekend, and there would be no one around to do it until then.

But the doctor also said she didn't know if Mom would last the weekend.

During the Friday visit, Mom recognized us, but barely interacted with us. She did manage to ask for water, which we gave her by spoon. She also asked in writing about wanting to go home and to go shopping. She also wrote some gibberish. Her energy level was definitely down. She kept nodding off. She finally fell asleep.

On the way home, Dad asked me to drive to his town on Mondy to pick up the power of attorney papers the lawyer was preparing. I reiterated that Mom was not lucid enough to sign. He said there still might be a chance she could.

I suggested that instead he get his own health care proxy and directives in order so that we don't face a similar situation with him some day.

He said he would. But he still wanted me to get the papers from the lawyer.

It is now Saturday. I am at my weekend job. No calls so far.

When I get home, I may turn the ringer off on the phone and take a nap.