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.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

2006 "Predictions"

I've been loking around in some of my favorite blogs, and a number of people are posting predictions for 2006.

I was thinking of doing that, too, but all the good predictions I dreamed up have already been taken.

Besides, although I'm generally a pretty good predictor, I'm still not over last year's prediction that the next pope would be named George Ringo.

So instead of predictions about events, I'm going to predict words.

Here are some of the words, names and phrases that will figure into events in 2006.

Merry Christmas.
Donald Trump.
Pro-life Democrats.
Women priests.
And the winner is ...
Dick Cheney's heart.
Christian market.

Top free protest

AUBURN, N.Y. (AP) _ Four women who were arrested for baring their breasts on a Finger Lakes village street this summer say they will sue to recover legal costs -- and for, quote, ``pain and suffering.''

The four women filed a notice of claim Thursday with the Cayuga County clerk's office.

Carol Clarke and Barbar Crumb of Branchport, Madeline McPhearson of Rochester and Claudia Kellersch of La Jolla, California, were arrested in August outside a grocery store in Moravia, a village 40 miles southwest of Syracuse.

The women said a 1992 state Court of Appeals decision allows women to go topless anywhere a man can.

A district attorney later said he would not prosecute the case.

The suit will be filed against the county, the village and the town of Locke.

The women's claim is asking for expenses plus 15-hundred dollars for each woman for ``pain and suffering.''

I'm just wondering if the people who witnessed their protest can also file suit against the four for "pain and suffering"?

What about the guy who got a kink in his neck when he did a double take?

Or the kid whose mother gave him a black eye when she slapped her hand over his eyes?

Or the business owners who lost business when customers spotted the protest and drove or walked away?

And then there were the women who suffered mental distress after comparing their own breasts with those on display? (Heck, that's grounds for getting an abortion in the U.S.)

I think some folks are missing an opportunity here.

Unfortunately, I wasn't in Moravia that day. Hey - maybe I can sue because they didn't stage the protest in my town. It's causing me mental distress.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Lion, Witch, Wardrobe

I finally saw The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

It was about as I expected.

A good movie, but not a great one.

I admit, I have been spoiled by the Lord of the Rings films. They had more to work with in the first place, however. Although I enjoyed the Narnia books, they are not on the same level as the Rings books.

LWW was fairly true to the book. Some of the CGI was quite good (some of it not). It was vastly better than the BBC series as far as the special effects go, though.

(I have a certain fondness for the BBC productions, by the way. I think they have been unfairly mocked over the years. Tom Baker as Puddleglum was a hoot!)

There were even a couple of scenes in LWW that got me tearing up.

My wife, who has never read the books, got confused at points.

She didn’t fully understand what the bombing at the beginning was about, and she was puzzled why the children were being sent away on the train – perhaps a moment’s explanation would have helped.

She also did not recognize Father Christmas. She had an idea who he was, but had no idea why he was there. I imagine some young viewers might be similarly confused.

So a mixed review. Well worth seeing, but don’t expect a classic.

No more limbo at church dances?

Well, it’s happening.

Limbo is in limbo.

Theologians have met in Rome to discuss what happens to unbaptized babies who die.

Traditionally – but not officially, as it was never formal doctrine – such innocent souls were consigned to Limbo, a place of happiness, but not union with God.

They could not go to heaven, after all: That original sin thing.

Some folks even consigned good heathens to Limbo, too.

Original sin again.

Anyway, it seem that the theologians will be getting rid of Limbo


Pope Benedict clearly favors such a move. Back in 1984 he said, “Limbo has never been a definitive truth of the faith. Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis."

I always found Limbo troubling on a theological level – why deny union with God to children who never had an opportunity to do anything good or bad?

But on other levels, it was kind of fun.

I always imagined babies floating and bouncing around in clouds, giggling, having a jolly old time. Sort of like that baby “sun” in the Telletubbies show.

Sometimes I even pictured them doing the “limbo”!

And then I imagined good heathens like Buddha or Muhammad or Gandhi bouncing around with them.

I had a hard time picturing Buddha doing the limbo, though.

So while the theologians are figuring out what to do with all those unbaptized souls, I’m busy trying to come with a new dance for them.

After all, the bad Catholics, bad Christians and bad heathens in Hell have disco – and the Macarena.

How about the Hokey Pokey?

I can imagine Buddha doing that.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Condom Mary and a "bigoted" comment

Poor America magazine.

Earlier this year, it lost an editor.

Now, there is the “ad.”

It seems an artist somehow got the magazine to print an ad depicting a statue of Mary sheathed in a transparent condom.

The ad got by the editors, and appeared in print in the magazine’s December 5 issue.

America has since apologized. Repeatedly.

From a CNS account:

"We were embarrassed to have readers call our attention to the offensive advertisement that escaped our unknowing eyes," it said. "We have taken several steps to tighten our advance review of advertising and express our outrage to the artist."

The advertiser, who identified himself as "sculptural artist Steve Rosenthal," told a reader who contacted him that his work was intended to be "an assault on Catholic faith and devotion," America editors said in their disclaimer.

Meanwhile, the ad prompted Vittorio Messori (“who has co-authored books with Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II“) to comment in print in an Italian publication:

"All of this in a church like the American church, reduced to economic bankruptcy and the unanimous abomination of a clergy that too often, it seems, likes to fondle seminarians' genitalia," he wrote.

Phew. The ad - and the "artwork" - are offensive. But so is this response, which, given Messori's status is perhaps even more offensive.

He apparently did not do his research and take into account that America ran the ad by mistake and had apologized. Bad journalism.

If he wants to take anyone to task, he should go after the artist.

I also think he should also apologize to American Catholics – clergy and lay – for such a blanket and odious statement. I would expect mea culpa’s at least on the order of America’s for having running the ad in the first place.

Maybe he should take a more prophylactic approach to his commentaries.

As for running the ad, I really believe it was just a dumb mistake on the part of the America.

I suspect some members of the staff got lumps of coal this past Christmas.

It reminds me of something I saw when I worked for a Catholic newspaper.

As part of my job, I regularly read the secular newspapers from the part of the diocese I covered.

One April 20, I noticed in the personals section one of those birthday greetings with a picture.

It said “Happy birthday to our favorite uncle.”

I looked at the picture. It was old. World War I old. Then I recognized it (I am a history teacher): It was Adolph Hitler in his World War I uniform. April 20 happens to be Hitler’s birthday.

A birthday tribute to Hitler in the 1990s.

The town in which the newspaper is published had, at that time, a neo-Nazi group (who later sparked a near riot when they staged a rally. The Nazi’s needed police protection!)

I called the newspaper’s editors to let them know what they had run.

They were embarrassed.

Mr. Messori should also be embarrassed.

Stereotyping a whole group of people is bigotry – something for which the Nazis were famous.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Catching up on tags

In all the mayhem of the Christmas season (but I did get to play Santa!), I have not kept up with my blog and with reading other people’s blogs as much as I would like.

I did get tagged twice. I respond to both now.

Paul ( hit me with this one:

1. Write three things that we're grateful to God for in this past liturgical year.

Hmm. One of the best things that have happened in the last year is being Santa, but that happened in the current liturgical year, not the past one.

The best thing this past year, of course, was the marriage of my oldest daughter, Clare, in July. I still smile when I think of the father/bride dance song she selected (“Be bop a lu lah, she’s my baby,” which I used to sing to her 22 years ago while changing her diapers).

My play version of Stone Soup was a success, and played to packed houses.

I had several haiku accepted for publication.

2. Write three ways in which we hope to improve our relationship with God in this coming liturgical year.

Pray more regularly than my usual hit or miss way.

Reread the entire New Testament, using commentaries to help me. (In the same vein, try to get more spiritual reading in my life.)

Get to confession more regularly.

3. Pass this on to three other bloggers.

Having been out of the loop lately, I’m not sure who’s done this already. I tag

That Happy Catholic, Julie (
And Talmida

But if you’ve already done this, fine.

The second one is from KAT (got you back!)

Rules: “The first player of this game starts with the topic “five weird habits of yourself,” and people who get tagged need to write an entry about their five weird habits as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose the next five people to be tagged and link to their web journals. Don’t forget to leave a comment in their blog or journal that says “You are tagged” (assuming they take comments) and tell them to read yours.”

1. I dance like a wounded bird just for the fun of it.

2. In conversation (or while teaching), I frequently quote movies, television, songs, literature, often using different voices. (“and that’s the twuth, ppppfttt!)

3. I make up words, or purposely distort or misuse words (my favorite “swear” words, for example, are “fisbin” and “bicuspids,” and my daughters still get confused because they’d always heard me say “mispronuncicate” instead of “mispronounce.”

4. I play or sing Christmas songs year round.

5. I frequently use archaic words. (Forsooth, zounds, belay that, etc.)

Tag 5 people:

Jack Bennett

Have fun.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Eve walk (haiku)

Christmas Eve walk
studying the stars above -
maybe one of these?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve morning - first without mom

Here it is, Christmas Eve.

The first without mom.

I'm not weepy about it. I haven't spent Christmas Eve or Day with her in years. We've generally met to exchange gifts and spend some uncomfortable time together a day or two after Christmas.

But this is dad's first year alone. And because he is in a wheelchair (his choice: it was easier than walking with the quad cane, which he was able to do until he allowed his legs to weaken by constantly using the chair) that can't fit in our non-handicap accessible house (all steps, narrow bathroom door, toilet next to a radiator and a window making rails impossible), he can't be with family.

We will drive over to the adult home to spend some time with him.

I've also suggested that he get into physical therapy again so that by next year he can join us. I hope that will spur him.

This is also Nana's first year without mom. I just moved her into a new home near us. She'll be with us Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Hopefully, that will help her deal with the loss.

Hopefully she will not spout off with one of her accusations or insults.

I have a c.d. called a Dysfunctional Family Christmas. I may listen to it later.

The high point of today is that I will play Santa at the mall from 3 p.m. to closing time.

Christmas Eve Santa.

Even though I have been dealing with a pinched nerve in my back that has left my left leg in constant pain, these days as Santa have been among the happiest Christmas experiences I can remember in a long time.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Mall Santa's Prayer

As I hold each precious child
let me treat each one
with the love and care I'd show
Your most holy Son.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The more the merrier?

I occasionally hear complaints from unmarried female friends that there are just not enough good men available – often adding that all the good ones are married.

In some cases, I’m polite enough not to point out some relevant facts they might be overlooking. (“You’re a nut case!”) But there are also a few very nice, sane, decent women who have not been lucky.

The Washington Times has an article that suggests a possible solution: polygamy.

(“The Marriage of Many” -

The point of the piece is that as the gay marriage agenda advances, eventually the rules against polygamy will likewise be challenged and fall.

And, to be honest, polygamy does have more arguments in its favor than gay marriage. It’s biblical, and has been accepted in many cultures and other religions.

So if all the good men are married, well, then just marry one of them.

At the same time, if two men both find the same good woman, why don’t they both marry her?

My wife jokingly shook her fist when she saw me looking at the article, and muttered something about not sharing me.

But she added that she might be willing to consider it if it means there will be someone at home to keep up with the housework and the dishes.

Makes sense to me.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Gaudete Sunday

Rejoice - the Lord is nigh!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The skinny on being an OFM

“Your holiness,” Santa said, bowing slightly to Pope John XXIII.

“I should say that to you,” Pope John replied. “I am merely a pope, but you are a saint.”

Santa sat.

“So, Lee, what do you think of our gathering?” He asked.

“I’m confused.”

All four of my companions laughed.

“An honest reaction,” Chesterton said.

“We all experienced that at first,” Stout said.

“I don’t understand why I am here. I am fat, true. But I am not dead.”

“As the invitation said, this is an information dinner,” Stout said.

“The information is not so much about the society as it is about what it takes to join,” Santa said.
“If you qualify, you can’t not want to join,” Pope john said.

At that moment, a waiter brought a tray full of crackers, cheese, shrimp, pickles, stuffed mushrooms, and assorted other appetizers.

My companions dug in.

Chesterton picked up a piece of cheese and studied it.

“The poets have been mysteriously silent …,” he began.

“On the subject of cheese,” Santa and Stout finished.

Chesterton laughed. “That’s the problem with publishing every thought one has ever had.”

He popped the cheese into his mouth.

“We are by nature joiners,” Chesterton said. “From the moment a man first totters away from his mother’s arms, he seeks the company of other men. They form gangs, packs, clubs, secret clubs, societies. They wear robes and cloaks and swords and hats with feathers. They have secret passwords and handshakes. Man is a social creature.”

“And at these gatherings, we eat and drink,” Stout said.

“Generally too much,” Santa said, patting his stomach.

By this time wine and beer had arrived. Chesterton poured me a mug of beer.

“I sense you are a beer man, eh?”

I took the mug. The others raised their mugs and glasses.

“To dining and drinking with friends,” Stout said.

We all drank. The beer was quite good.

“Mind you, we are not talking about gluttony here,” Santa said.

“No. What we celebrate is the companionship,” Chesterton said. “Food and drink is always better in a social context.”

“When I eat alone I feel like a seminarian being punished,” Pope John said. “I tried it for one week and I was not comfortable. Then I searched through Sacred Scripture for something saying I had to eat alone. I found nothing, so I gave it up and it's much better now.”

“I fear I am not the only one guilty of quoting himself,” Chesterton said.

Pope John nodded, smiled, then sipped his wine.

“Companionship. That is what nourishes us,” Chesterton continued. “It is communion, a sharing in the sacred feast.”

“Why there are some religions that recognize the importance of this kind of communion that they forbid their members from eating with nonbelievers,” Stout said.

“But if you will forgive me,” I said. “Given our respective girths, aren’t we still talking about gluttony?”

“Look about,” Chesterton said. “What do you see? Fat men?”


“Illusion!” he declared.

“There are men here who in life were never fat,” Pope John said. “Our dinner companion,” he pointed to Santa, “was thin in life.”

“What you see here are manifestations of their spirits,” Stout said.

“Outward signs of their largeness of spirit,” Pope John added.

“That is what our society celebrates,” Chesterton said. “These are men who rejoice in God’s good gifts to us. Food and drink, yes, but also friendship, and generosity, and love. The ordinary and the simple is as much food for a feast as that which we call profound. Indeed, there is nothing more profound than the ordinary.”

He chuckled and took a bite of the potatoes that had arrived. Indeed, our plates were full and we had been eating – yet I was barely aware of the food passing my lips.

“The world is too full of people waiting for Christmas, and missing the point that every day is Christmas,” Santa said. “The great gift of Christ is waiting for us to unwrap every day.”

“But we think of holiness as somehow a sour pursuit,” Chesterton said. “Imagine the message we give to non-believers with our dark and somber looks. Who wants to join a group of people who look as if they spend their days sucking lemons and stamping out joy? Why, we should feast every day. As it says in Proverbs, `He that is of a merry heart has a continual feast.’ There’s a faith to attract others.”

“Yes, and `They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing,’’’ Pope John said. “They bring the message of God’s kingdom to others through their savoring it like a fine wine or even a piece of humble bread.”

“Which is what we are about,” Stout said. “We are men who tried to celebrate each day in life. We tried to share that joy with others.”

“God does not demand perfection,” Pope John said. “Look about. There are men here who sinned greatly. But they loved greatly. They tried hard to improve. They begged forgiveness. King David committed great offenses, yet he danced with abandon before the Ark of the Covenant because of his love for the Lord.”

“St. Francis of Assisi sinned in his life, yet he was so in love that he was willing to play the fool for Christ,” Chesterton added. “He made penance, yes, but at the same celebrated even the simple thing of creation, calling them his bothers and sisters. And by doing so, he inspired others. He made others aware that all creation is a gift, that life is a great feast.”

“By the way, Brother Francis is quite fat when he attends our gatherings,” Santa said. “And when he laughs, talk about a belly that looks like a bowlful of jelly!”

“There are those who say that inside every fat man is a thin man trying to get out,” Chesterton said. “I say that inside every thin man is a fat man waiting to enjoy a belly laugh.”

“So you don’t have to be fat of body in life to join,” Stout said. “But you must be large of spirit.”

“That is why you have been invited here,” Pope John said. “You have shown signs of that largeness of spirit. You have shared the love of the Lord in some ways.”

“If you chose to continue to share it, to seek out more ways to share it, then you will grow,” Santa said.

“What this evening is is an invitation,” Chesterton said. “You too can be an Old Fat Man, if you continue to celebrate and share God’s presence in the simple and the profound.”

“You can have your cake and eat it too,” Stout said.

“Out of curiosity, what about women?” I said. “I see none here.”

“Most women don’t need societies to celebrate the ordinary,” Chesterton said. “They have their own wonderful ways to express largeness of spirit.”

“But we do have women who join us occasionally,” Stout added.

“Yes, I had a wonderful talk one dinner with Mother Teresa and the Blessed Mother,” Pope John said.

The conversation flowed freely over the next two hours – fueled by food, drink and humor.

I never laughed so much.

As the evening ended, each of my dinner companions bade me farewell. Santa gave me some tips on portraying him at the mall. Pope John blessed me. Chesterton gave me an idea for a play that he’d considered, but never wrote.

After the last dessert and the last toast, Stout led me to the door.

“Thank you for coming,” he said. “I hope to see you again – but not for a while.”

“I hope so – and not – as well,” I said.

“Remember,” he said. “The way to become an OFM is not by becoming fat, but rather, by making others `fat and flourishing.' As they increase, so do you. So does God's kingdom.”

As I drove home, I resolved two things.

I would treat all life as a feast to be shared with others.

And I would go on a diet.

Heck, I now know I can be a fat man without adding a pant size!

Friday, December 09, 2005

More OFM

“Chesterton?” I blurted. “that’s impossible.”

Stout laughed and beckoned Chesterton over.

“Ah, Strong old man, glad to meet you,” Chesterton said, taking my hand and clasping it warmly. “We are scheduled to dine together.”

“Our visitor says that you are impossible,” Stout said to Chesterton.

“Impossible? I have been called worse,” Chesterton chuckled. “As for that, I have found that when we experience a reality that is impossible, it is safe to conclude that at least one thing we considered impossible is indeed possible.”

I was too startled to respond. I looked away to think – and that’s when I spotted Oliver Hardy chatting with John Candy.

I looked around quickly to see if there were more famous fat men.

And saw Orson Welles laughing at something Jackie Gleason said.

And Babe Ruth showing a sumo wrestler his swing.

And a man I thought was William Howard Taft listening to Winston Churchill.

And a cleric I was sure must be Friar Tuck was at the snack table sampling some shrimp along with Alfred Hitchcock and Sidney Greenstreet.

And approaching us, Pope John XXIII.

“Ah, I’m glad I made it in time,” Pope John said. “I am happy to meet you.”

He too shook my hand.

He smiled.

“I think our brother is confused,” he said. “We should sit.”

He placed a hand on my shoulder and directed me to a table. I sat. Chesterton, Stout and Pope John also sat.

“I don’t know quite what to say,” I said. “I, I thought, I don’t mean to be rude, but you are all … dead.”

“Quite,” Chesterton said.

“No doubt,” Pope John said.

“Here, too,” Stout said.

“But then how? And why am I here?”

“To see if you will fit in – when the time is right,” Stout said.

Pope John patted my arm.

“Fear not. Your presence here does not mean that your time is near.”

“Precisely when your time is is not for us to know, of course,” Chesterton said.

“But you won’t have to worry if you’ve been a good boy,” a voice said behind me.

I turned to see Santa Claus.

To be continued …

Thursday, December 08, 2005

OFM revealed

I stopped home the night of the dinner to touch base with my wife and to have a snack. I wasn’t sure if there really was going to be a dinner.

I then drove into the city.

The address was in an older section of the city that once housed the homes of the almost rich who dreamed of owning mansions like those just a few blocks away.

Now, their homes housed offices, societies, and apartments.

The house at the address was typical. It had a long walk flanked by neatly trimmed bushes. The building was ivy covered. The windows and the door were framed by heavy stone casements. The wood of the door was a deep, rich brown. It was wider and taller than normal.

I rang the bell.

The door swung open. A tall, portly man greeted me enthusiastically.

“Come in, come in,” he bellowed jovially.

He shook my hand energetically. My hand disappeared into his.

“You are Mr. Strong, yes. Of course you are. I‘m Archibald Stout.”

I almost laughed.

His eyes twinkled.

“Yes,” he chuckled, “it’s a name that works.”

I wasn’t sure if I should say anything. He just smiled, then signaled for me to follow him.

“I expect you’ll want to meet the others. It will help you to decide.”

“Decide what?”

“Why, if you want to join us.”

“I don’t know who you are,” I said. “I don’t even know what OFM stands for.”

We stepped into an enormous dining room, and suddenly I had a sick feeling I knew what OFM stood for.

The room was full of men. Large men. Some would have qualified as giants.

All of them fat.

Fat men.

“Yes,” he laughed. “We are the Order of Fat Men. Some of us just refer to ourselves as the `Old Fat Men.’”

I felt – insulted, embarrassed, confused. I self-consciously touched my too-large stomach.

Then I spotted a man who looked familiar.

“I … he looks like G. K. Chesterton,” I said, not sure what else to say.

“He should. That is Gilbert.”

To be continued…

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Lee Strong, OFM?

One evening while reading, I went to the fridge to search for a piece of pecan pie I had spotted earlier.

I found it. But when I lifted the plate, I saw an envelope beneath it.

I took the envelope out. On the front, written in an even hand, was my name.

Lee Strong.

Nothing else.

“Honey,” I called to my wife in the living room, “Any idea why there’s an envelope in the fridge?”

“Why would I put an envelope in the fridge?” she said.

Good question.

I opened the envelope. Inside there was a simple white card.

“The OFM requests your presence at an information dinner …”

It went on to list a date and time, and an address, but no phone number or e-mail address where I could get more information.

Nothing else.

OFM? Order of Friars Minor? Franciscans???

I looked at the envelope again.

No other details. The handwriting did not look familiar.

I threw it on my dresser.

It had to be a joke.

The next day I was at the school where I teach. In between classes, I went in to my office and reached into the drawer where I keep a supply of chocolate covered raisins.

I felt an envelope.

I took it out.

Same size. Same even handwriting.

I opened it.

Same invitation.

Now I was certain it was a joke.

So I decided to go - out of curiosity, and to see if I could turn things around on the jokers.

But first, I ate a handful of chocolate covered raisins.

To be continued …

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The feast of St. Nicholas

This is a special day for me: The feast of St. Nicholas.

Even if there are questions about his existence, he still is one of the more popular saints – even separate from Christmas.

So I have two patron saints: Francis of Assisi (whom we can thank for such Christmas traditions as creches and carols), and Nicholas of Myra.

Not bad company.

Monday, December 05, 2005

sure woke me up - ugh (haiku)

morning walk –
rabbit tracks in the snow end
in splatter of blood

Friday, December 02, 2005

I really am Santa Claus!

I am now officially a Santa Claus.

Last night I worked a three-hour shift at a local mall.

I am scheduled for other shifts, including Christmas Eve.

This has been one of my dreams for years. Two years ago, my wife even gave me a nice Santa outfit. But I haven’t had a chance to wear it. (My beard has been an issue. Being a perfectionist, I wanted to do parties with a natural beard, but I have to keep my beard trimmed and it’s not quite white enough yet.)

At the mall, I wear the costume they provide. But I did bring my own boots (a nice leather pair I bought at a biker shop.)

I said a prayer on the way, hoping that I would bring a sense of love and wonder to the kids.

It was wonderful.