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January 4th, 2004
An Unexpected Bond Turns Everything Around in The Cooler

For years, self-help books have asserted that your thoughts influence your reality?that if you schlep through life feeling like a loser, the energies of the universe will make you a loser.
In The Cooler , William H. Macy plays Bernie Lootz, a man whose sad sack demeanor not only makes him perennially unlucky, but affects all those with whom he comes in contact. His job at the Shangri-La casino in Las Vegas is to “cool” down anyone’s winning streak that could cost the casino too much money. The simple brush of Bernie’s hand against a roulette table causes Lady Luck to make a U-turn right out the door.
Paying off debts
Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin), the Shangri-La’s manager and seeming…

January 4th, 2004
Central Park's highly touted new art installation offers one New Yorker little reason for reflection.

But I’ll only know that once they get them the hell outta here.My office is only two blocks from New York’s Central Park and yet, I hadn’t been able to get over to the park to see Christo and his wife Jean-Claude’s latest public exhibit called “The Gates”. I’m heading to Ireland in a few days for a much needed vacation and my friends, knowing that the installation is only up for a few weeks and would be down by the time I returned implored me, “You have to go see ‘The Gates’—don’t miss them!”
So my way into the office this morning I made my way into the Park from my subway stop on 6th Avenue.
My reaction?
“Well…that’s 45 minutes…

January 4th, 2004
Back to High School at the Niece's Recital

Last week I returned to the high school from where I graduated.
The occasion that drew me to my alma mater for the first time in several years was a Christmas recital consisting of the local elementary, middle, and high schools. I had attended all three and now my 12-year-old niece, Meggie, was following in my footsteps. She plays the flute in the middle school band.
Wave of nostalgia

So there I sat in the familiar bleachers, hit with an unexpected pang of nostalgia as I looked around the gym and recognized pennants and memorabilia from days when Donny Osmond ruled and Lynyrd Skynyrd rocked. Had it really been so long? How could the years slip by like a mere blip on the radar screen? I felt like a bad cliché as I wondered where…

January 3rd, 2004

Do you think same-sex marriages will be made legal in your lifetime?…

January 2nd, 2004
Stunning Tales of the Ultimate Sacrifice

Martyrs: Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith
Edited by Susan Bergman, HarperSanFrancisco (1998), 333 pages.
Bad martyr vibes
It used to be that when I thought of martyrs,
I immediately thought of a book from my childhood, Miniature Stories of the Saints . It had a picture of the young Saint Catherine of Alexandria holding the spiked wheel with which she was to be tortured to death; the image had burned itself into my youthful mind.
So when a friend gave me Martyrs: Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith, a 20 essay collection of the lives of 20th century martyrs, I was in no hurry to delve into it.
My mistake.
More faith, less masochismMartyrs is an amazing volume chronicling
the lives of people responding…

January 2nd, 2004
The problem with mom getting too candid about sex

A few months back, I had a disturbing conversation with my mother. It went something like this:
Mom: You mean to tell me you’re going to marry someone you haven’t had sex with?
Me: Yes.
Mom: Really?
Me: Yes. I think it’s wrong. And I really don’t want to be having this conversation with you, Mother.
Mom: Well, I don’t want to be havingit either.
Silence. Silence. Silence.
Mom: But you are going to have some sex, right?

This was the point where I would normally leave the room horrified and with my face about 1,000 shades of red. Unfortunately, we were in the car, and it took another 20 minutes of uncomfortable silence to get back home.
I’m not sure I’ve completely recovered…

January 2nd, 2004
A GenX Spiritual Guru Looks at the Meaning of Integrating Who We Are With What We Buy.

In “Consuming Faith: Integrating Who We Are With
What We Buy,” Tom Beaudoin focuses on what he calls “economic spirituality.”
Branding ourselvesBeaudoin, who explored “the irreverent spiritual quest of Generation X” in his previous book, “Virtual Faith,” put off his doctoral dissertation in theology to embark on a self-reflective study of a “branding” economy. He wanted to examine how the goods we purchase have a personality all their own that we buy into.
He noticed that both men and women were attracted to certain brands, or perhaps more importantly the brand’s persona. Some wear baggy jeans associated with a tough streetwise…

January 2nd, 2004
The Restive Nomad Buys a Townhouse (with Multi-Paned Windows)

Everyone expects black balloons and wise-cracking cards once your birthdays celebrate passing the age of 30. No one, however, mentions an unexpected perk: kissing those carefree, post-college days goodbye.
Contentment . . . what a conceptIt’s not that I was unhappy in my youth. But now I can admit I was restless, a heat-seeking missile constantly searching for some elusive target that would radio back “Ding ding ding , this is it!”
But just what was “it“? A glamorous job pulling in big bucks? Living in a trendy loft in the city? Or was”it” a husband, kids, and a home in the ‘burbs? Maybe “it ” was a career as a globe-trotting journalist, or a Peace…

January 1st, 2004

“Do you ever think about your own mortality and about what happens after death?”…

December 31st, 2003
The Surprisingly Gratifying New Year's Alternative

Surprise! There are perks to adding on a few years. Really.
Like, for instance, discovering that you can enjoy your own company without having to rely on someone else to make you happy. That’s why I no longer freak out when New Year’s Eve rolls around.
But it wasn’t always so
Used to be I dreaded the question that began rearing its ugly head around Thanksgiving:
“What are you doing New Years Eve?”
Because if ever there is pressure to celebrate an event, New Year’s Eve is the big kahuna. For years my unhitched friends and I casually quizzed each other about our plans for December 31st, yet we hesitated to make plans with each other. Why?
Because however much we cherished our friendships,…

December 30th, 2003
Prayer and Crowd Control at Mother Teresa's Beatification

The Vatican is the smallest country in the world. Until recently, I always thought of that fact as a neat bit of trivia and nothing more—kind of a, “Take that, Luxembourg!” A few weeks ago, as I stood shoulder-to-shoulder in St. Peter’s Square with 300,000 other people, I felt like I was indeed in a very small country.
I felt honored to be in attendance as our Pope, a man I consider a living saint, sent a woman who had been a living saint in our lifetime—Mother Teresa—on the road to official sainthood. It was a sacred event.
… which is why I really could not understand why a little Polish woman was elbowing me in the gut.
300,000′s a crowdThe crowd’s actions that day surprised…

December 28th, 2003

I remember building a snowman in my backyard with my older sister when I was about 5 years old. It was there that snow became the great equalizer. While she piled together the bottom third of our snowman, I took the opportunity to plot my big moment of revenge for all the times I was too little to be noticed.
I packed together a small mound of snow in my tiny five-year-old fingers and slowly approached the victim prowler-like, slowly and deliberately. With her back turned away, in the perfect kneeling position, she was now exactly my height—and busily packing the snow. I quickly arrived at the glorious summit of Mt. Kathy and (WHOMPF) smushed the snowball right in her face, a direct hit! A blow for the munchkins! I screamed…

December 25th, 2003
Celebrating Christmas Polish-American style

It’s not Mary giving birth or the baby Jesus Himself that brings it to mind, but standing in the window watching for the first star to appear in the sky so that we can commence Wigilia, the Polish Christmas vigil and meal.

Just my jobIt’s the job of the youngest child to watch for the first star, and, sans procreation, thirty years later that is still my role in the process. One generation removed from the “old country” my aunt keeps up the Wigilia meal tradition and cooks the meatless dinner.
The meal begins with the breaking and sharing of the oplatek, a rectangular wafer of much the same consistency as the host in church, with an image or scene of the Baby Jesus imprinted on it. There’s…

December 25th, 2003
Midnight Mass at St. Mary's... Hyderabad

In my family, we have a tradition of eating my Mom’s excellent fruitcake after Midnight Mass. It’s a sweet end to the wonderful experience of the evening.
I’m sure Masses in other places around the world are equally spectacular. But, for me, nothing beats Midnight Mass at St. Mary’s Church. If you’re ever in Hyderabad during Christmas time, be sure to check it out.
The night is usually cloudless and stars are visible in the sky. To me, it always seems that on this night, there is one star shining brighter than the rest. And every year it is cold. The men are handsomely dressed in suits and the women in sarees, salwaar kameezes, or dresses, covering themselves with shawls. Everyone wears…

December 24th, 2003
Virtuous Cheating and the Holiday Seasons

I hope I don’t get in trouble for telling you that my family is a bunch of big cheaters.
We love to play games, but we watch very carefully to see who’s stacking the deck; who’s sneaking a peek at the cards, or who’s moving the little Monopoly shoe a tad too many spaces.
I’m also a big fan of Christmas. (A recent poll on our family website asks our favorite Christmas characters with all the usual suspects: Rudolph, Santa, Jesus, Ralphie. My sister responded that her favorite Christmas character wasn’t in the list. She meant me.)
So, when a well-meaning soul tells me I should really be present to Advent first—and not jump right into the Christmas spirit, I suspect they think I’m…

December 19th, 2003
Parental Metaphors Gone Awry?

I learn from people. I respect their opinions, try to see both sides, and usually succeed.
But recently there was one argument I couldn’t reconcile. It came from a woman who read a newspaper essay I wrote about my pet greyhound, Elvis. She didn’t appreciate the fact that I had referenced myself as a “mother” to my dog and admonished me for using that expression.
Lost in La-La Land?“You apparently don’t have a very firm grip on reality,” she emailed me. “While I commend you for adopting a greyhound, I am completely dismayed by your reference to yourself as a ‘mother.’ Here is a very important piece of information—you cannot return a child if you feel…

December 17th, 2003
A Job Search That Wouldn't Come to Term

Countless rejection letters… I started losing hope, and gaining weight.
For several years I had worked as a campus minister at the University of Oregon in Eugene. The college town was the right size and pace for me. The Newman Center community was life-giving and filled me with energy. Great job, great location… but time goes by and a change is necessary. This would mean relocation, and I had known it would take some time to make it happen. But this long?
Preparation time
It had been a challenge preparing for an eventual departure whose time was kept hidden (even to me). I had worked to enable volunteers to handle my responsibilities, made provisions for different possibilities, shared resources.
I even…

December 12th, 2003
J.R.R. Tolkien's Work and his Catholic Faith

When he was eight, his mother had to go back to work to support her children when an Anglican relative withheld financial support because of her conversion to Catholicism. (The establishment in England at this time was prejudiced against “popery” to an extent scarcely conceivable today.)
The martyrFour years later, his mother—overworked and worn out from poverty and the emotional pressures of family members who continued to criticize her conversion—lapsed into a diabetic coma and died in six days.
The boy was left in the care of Fr. Francis Morgan, a priest appointed by the mother to act as guardian.
This orphan: J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Two obsessions…

December 10th, 2003
Caring for the Temple of Me

I stepped on the scale the other day and it read:
Please get off of me, you fat bastard!
Somehow the scale that used
to read around 180 or 190 pounds has recently moved closer toward the 215 to 220 mark.
How did this happen? Where did forty pounds of unwanted flab around the mid-section on my six foot frame come from? Perhaps the answer lies not just in what’s on my plate but also within myself.
I’m generally a pretty lazy person who needs to be pushed at times. My wife has to ask me to do household chores, the laundry sometimes piles up, and my first drafts sometimes get handed in as articles unless someone prods me to work on them further.
What’s worse is that I do the same thing with the care of my body, the temple…

December 8th, 2003
Whoever She Is, Mary Magdalene Still Matters

I have learned the six magic words that will wake up any high school religion class:
“Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute.”
Every year I get the same strong reaction from my students to this simple truth.

“But wasn’t she the woman caught in adultery?”
“My religion teacher said she was the sinner who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume.”
“How can you say that when the movies portray her as a prostitute?”

It seems that popular culture has more authority than the Bible.
Mary Magdalene in the BibleWhen I point out that Scripture says nothing about Mary Magdalene being a sinner, invariably a student will claim that I can’t prove that she wasn’t…

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