I stood by and watched a man drown in North Station

The other day, I saw a man hectoring people in line at the North Station McDonald’s for some spare change so he could get something to eat.

Because I, apparently, am an expert in human nature and the struggles every other person faces, I summed him up quickly. He was young, able-bodied, good-looking, white and almost certainly drunk. He didn’t deserve it, I told myself, but without so much as a glance I gave him the change I got back from my transaction and moved to the other end of the counter to wait for my order.

He then resumed his panhandling and I got pissed, growing ever angrier with each person he bugged for change.

Then I received my burger, fries and Coke and, eventually, took action: I took to Twitter called out the MBTA Transit Police and the Commuter Rail staff presumably in charge of North Station for their inability to take care of business and keep bums like this guy from harassing my fellow passengers. For good measure, I “copied” the governor on my complaint. That is, I included the governor’s Twitter handle in my 140-character tirade. I soon forgot about the whole thing. Until today.

A few years ago, I gave my life to Christ. Then something terrible happened. Then I made things so, so much worse. My closest friends and more than a few strangers can probably surmise what I’m talking about, but I don’t care to go into details. Trust me, though, it was pretty bad. With the Lord’s grace, I’m starting to come out of it and have actually emerged from the crisis increased in spite of, or perhaps because of, the experience.

That won’t be a surprise to anyone who has read the Bible, who remembers and understands how the God of Abraham repeatedly led his people — even (or especially) the transgressors — out of the wilderness. That same book, and an abundance of spiritual music inspired by it, also talks about the amazing grace and freedom that comes from Jesus through his death on the cross, his Resurrection and one’s acceptance and acknowledgement of the price he paid for our sins.

There’s a sentiment or a meme or whatever you want to call it that goes something like this: A man meets his maker and, once in front of him, decides to ask why, with all the suffering in the world and with all God’s ability to change it, he lets it continue. But the man never asks the question.

He’s afraid God will ask him the same thing.

Back to the other day. I have been blessed professionally and financially and, on the day in question, had plenty of ability to help this man — well over $100 — in my pocket. Yet, instead of helping, I merely bestowed less than a dollar in change, as well as my silent scorn, on a fellow person who Christ called me to help.

I have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior, yet I continually fail every test he confronts me with. On this day while waiting for my train home, I saw a man desperate and drowning in front of me, yet I didn’t throw him a life preserver, though it wouldn’t have set me back one iota. Rather than ask him what he thought he needed, given him the money and means to solve the problem in front of him, and tell him that he could be reconciled to God and could trust the Lord to break the chains of whatever is enslaving him, I let him go under. I have to live with that knowledge.

I’m going to keep trying to walk with the Lord and, knowing myself as I do, I will certainly keep getting lost along the way. But maybe next time I’ll start being a Christian, rather than just calling myself one.

How not to pray

Don’t pray for wealth, pray for industriousness.

Don’t pray for success, pray for the flexibility to exploit any outcome. pray1 Button

Don’t pray for others to change, pray for increased tolerance and charity.

Don’t pray for comfort and joy, pray for wisdom and reslience.

Don’t pray for favor, pray for forbearance.

Don’t pray for health, pray for the knowledge and persistence to achieve it.

Don’t pray for glory and honors, pray for humility and helpfulness.

Don’t pray for the right person, pray to become the right person.

Don’t pray for blessings, pray to be a blessing to others.

Lessons in humility

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I need winter.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate winter with a passion as white and hot as snow is white and cold. But I need the constant lesson in humility winter brings.

One lesson is obvious: our inability to control the elements, and our charge to make the best of bad situations by laying up supplies, amassing sufficient money to keep one’s dwelling sound and warm, and mustering the fortitude snow photo 2 for jharmto suck it up and get out there and face the challenge of snow- and ice-mitigation.

But today I received another, more profound, lesson in humility. It came from a neighbor with whom, frankly, we haven’t gotten along.

Things started off terribly between our households when the late Buddy, Prince of West Methuen, on a couple of occasions availed himself of our neighbor’s lawn, unbeknownst to us (at least until our neighbor unequivocally and vociferously alerted us to the canine crime). You can probably guess what Buddy’s contribution to the contretemps was.

I bought our neighbor a case of Budweiser, left it on his doorstep as a peace offering, and we put the hard feelings in the rear-view mirror. Thus began a prolonged detente, punctuated occasionally by guttural, halfhearted greetings. We eventually erected a fence to keep our dogs on our property, and good fences made at least half-way-decent neighbors for years.

Relations between our camps were still somewhat frosty, but things hit a nadir last winter when I accidentally shoveled snow onto one of his trees, spurring a shouting match. (Both of us are perhaps afflicted, at least occasionally, with Irish tempers.)

However, circumstances led to an exchange, months later, of apologies for losing our cool and we went back to largely ignoring one another. Until today.

Today, for some unexpected reason attributable only to the grace of the God of Surprises, our neighbor approached me with an offer to snowblow our small yet still (on a day like today) formidable driveway. I reluctantly accepted, though unhesitatingly offered to pay him, or at least reimburse him for the gasoline exhausted in the task. He refused my offer and an enterprise that would have added a couple hours to a gargantuan undertaking — it still took me a few hours to clear the walk, deck and roofs — took about 10 minutes.

I’ve done nothing to deserve my neighbor’s largesse, yet I received it anyway. There’s been a lot of that lately in my life, and it’s still a struggle to accept.

I remain truly humbled by the magnanimity of others. Blessings abound, even when they’re disguised by a foot of snow.

The soft idolatry of thrift

Popular culture today is replete with gurus whose chief aim is to help you and I save money.

Sure, they’re often hawking their own frugality tools, their “Total Money Makeovers,” their “21-Day Financial Fasts” and their “Action Plans,” but I believe their hearts are in the right place.

That is, they’re in it for the money, but only in the best possible way. They’ve either grown up poor, made lots of money and blown it or made lots of pennybagsmoney and kept it. To a person, they give terrific and important advice.

An industry devoted to helping customers hold fast to their money might seem paradoxical, but on the whole it’s a good thing.

Except when it’s not.

At some point today, one of my favorite celebrity savers tweeted a link to something written by one of his website’s contributors. This article promised to show readers how to save big money — or,  more accurately, “$$” — by making their own laundry detergent! You can read this yourself, but it showed how some savvy purchases of bar soap, borax and a few other ingredients, and the commitment of about 20 minutes of one’s time, would yield huge dividends in the form of the avoidance of ponying up serious coin for laundry detergent.

Step one was, seriously, use a cheese grater to shred the bar of soap.

No.

I live in one of the more expensive parts of the country, but I’m confident I’ll never have to pay more than, say, six bucks for a half-gallon or more of laundry detergent. I’ve got six bucks, so do you. So does probably everybody you know or, if he or she doesn’t, he or she could certainly find a faith community or even a charitable individual to stand them to a bottle of Purex, Arm & Hammer or even the Market Basket brand.

I have no gripe with DIY-ers who want to give their pioneer spirit a workout by shunning Procter & Gamble, Amway or anyone else who manufactures laundry soap for a living. But I’m concerned that this level of frugality betrays more than a desire to be a responsible steward of the resources one has been blessed with. I think it gets at that “love of money” thing one reads about (or has certainly at least heard about once or twice) in the apostle Paul’s first letter to Timothy.

That is, greed is easy to spot (at least in others) and somewhat less easy to resist (though hardly impossible). Few would set out to live a life entirely based on the acquisition of wealth. Fewer, still, would allow envy to lead them to rob or swindle others of their wealth. Those who would, however, have clearly made a decision to serve money rather than God.

Yet isn’t our fixation on squeezing every last penny another manifestation of idolizing money, of somehow not trusting God to provide?

Stretching a buck has always been wise, especially when times are tough — as they have been for so many of us for so long. But I wonder if too many of us have made something of an idol of a sustainable, thrifty ethos. It’s a softer idolatry, perhaps, than a rapacious desire for money and things. However, we have to be willing to question what we might be squandering while we’re busy saving.

When faith denies art

OK, I love Jesus and generally applaud others able to employ art as the means of conveying their own love for the “newborn king.”

santa_kneeling_lg

Now where did I leave my keys?

After all, one needn’t travel to the Sistine Chapel to see sacred themes expertly applied.

But sometimes an artist’s devotion goes horribly wrong, and goes wrong over and over again, as in the case of the theme of Santa Claus kneeling in prayer over the baby Jesus.

I mean, are such paintings and figurines supposed to be equating Santa Claus with one of the magi, or perhaps God himself?

I’m a big fan of jolly old Saint Nicholas and am not in the least vexed by the spirit of gleeful commercialism that accompanies Christmas. Similarly, I’m no stranger to disturbing devotional art.

Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band

The left-handed guitar on the grave is a dead giveaway.

But Santa as eternal being attending the birth of the Lord is too treacly, infantile and, possibly, heretical to take.

I’d just as soon see the baby Jesus PhotoShopped onto the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” that is, if that weren’t already too busy proving the death of Paul McCartney.

At any rate, I hope you all had a Merry Christmas or even some joyous, nondenominational winter time off. New year’s coming!

An early Christmas return

Note: As I was watching television the other day, I saw one channel known for saccharine holiday fare — might have been Hallmark, could have been Lifetime — running back-to-back Christmas movies, and not even the classics. These were made-for-TV tripe starring Roma Downey or Susan Lucci or Gail O’Grady or Mitzi Kapture — one of those dames routinely in distress. So, in the spirit of holiday gifts nobody wants, here’s a repeat of something I wrote last year after Christmas, but edited a bit, since it’s still before Christmas (though you wouldn’t know it from watching TV or entering any store). The original post was titled “O holy moley!”

Now that the yuletide holidays are scratching at the window, I’m getting ready to be among those poor souls annually pilloried by the likes of Bill O’Reilly for waging the War on Christmas.

In fact, I rather enjoy the holiday and maintain that, among all the winter festivals, Christmas is far superior to its competitors.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all Jesussy, here. Your beliefs and mine are our business and, frankly, of little interest to one another. Rather, the Christmas I happen to dig is the one embraced by most Americans: the convivial secular orgy of gift-exchanging, overindulging and wishing others Merry Christmas, happy holidays or season’s greetings — it’s all good.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a couple of gripes. Here goes:

1. Two verses of any Christmas carol will suffice, thank you. Sorry, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but after “two turtle doves,” I’ve tuned out.

2. Speaking of Christmas carols, I simply find no need for a 24/7 rotation of holiday “favorites” on the radio for days on end. If a station wants to have a Christmas carol blowout on Christmas Eve Day, Christmas Day and even Boxing Day, that’s fine. Otherwise, cut it out! (And for those who suggest I can just change the station, too late: I already beat you to it.)

Don’t mistake the aforementioned observations for a disdain for all things associated with Jolly Old St. Nick. In my mind, Christmas as observed by most Americans (regardless of creed) is without peer.

As a “Braveheart”-style rally for one’s august faith tradition and heroic ancestors, Hanukkah is okey-dokey, but as a holiday, well … come on, now. Hanukkah is dreidls. Christmas is Battling Tops. ‘Nuff said.

And Kwanzaa? Kwanzaa and I are the same age, and neither of us is yet eligible for a subscription to AARP Magazine. What the hell kind of holiday tradition is that? Come talk to me when you can grow a little peachfuzz, Kwanzaa.

When the weather outside begins to turn frightful, I typically torture everyone on my social media network with wishes for a joyous Saturnalia, but so far I’ve attracted only one adherent — counting myself — to that ancient Roman yuletide feast, so Christmas remains large and in charge.

Happy birthday!

Is Frosty the Snowman the way and the light? Nah, didn’t think so.

That said, let me take a moment to clear up a couple of things. Christmas parties in public schools don’t represent an attempt to force religion down anyone’s throat, unless that religion is Frostianity.

At the same time, getting your ski pants in a twist when someone wishes you “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” doesn’t make you a good Christian, it makes you a grim and obnoxious bore.

If you’ve got anything to say, leave a comment below or contact me in person: I’ll be on the Island of Misfit Toys. Cheers!