Friday, March 7, 2014


Remember, you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.

The priest murmurs it as he swipes the ashes onto your forehead on Ash Wednesday.  To dust you shall return.  Remember that, for all your grand goals and ambitions, for all the inflated belief in your own value, your purpose and necessity, one day it's worm food for you, pal.

Lent is especially striking this year.  I want to use the word "cloying," but not in the negative way, indicating something of, say, an overwhelming saccharine sweetness.  Rather, the season claws at my soul, demanding a different kind of humility than usual.

For the first time ever, I am jarred by people who take these days lightly and dismissively, like the fellow in the newsroom who announced with a chuckle that he was "giving up religion for Lent."  Normally, I'm okay with the fun and games; I'm rather difficult to offend.  But now the piling on by the irreligious, or even non-Catholic, seemed ignorant and to be missing the point altogether.  This is a moment to pause and reflect on the real purpose and intent of your life, not a diet plan.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
 - Matthew 6:24

These days, I scramble for inflated belief in myself and my future.  As I've said before, worries about money can suck the joy out of anything, and sometimes it seems that the hole is not only deeper, but that all my furious efforts are only resulting in me digging in more, not in digging out.

Yet I can hardly complain.  The Sunday before Ash Wednesday, a priest who works for Food for the Poor spoke at Mass.  He described the stunning poverty, the astounding smell, of the nightmarish Cite Soliel area of Port au Prince, Haiti. 

I live comfortably, even well, probably beyond my means, but not extravagantly.  I do what seems reasonable, and I work hard to make enough income to cover it, and yet ... 

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

The trick here, I think, is to be sure to despise the correct master.  I mean: we really have to work for money.  It is the rare person who can simply exist from moment to moment without any thought as to where the next meal or payment will come from.  After a while of living in anything but the most ascetic of ways (like a monk, for example), one acquires obligations and responsibilities, like family and rent bills, expectations of food and clothing, and to be honest a certain style of living (whatever that style may be -- the monk can afford to live with only his robes, but the office expects something besides the same tattered outfit every day.)

Lent -- to return to the main point -- gives you an opportunity to step off of the treadmill for a moment and take a look at just what you're doing.  How much of the above is just rationalizations ("I really must have that new outfit for the office to be respectable."), how much the unthinking indulgence in little pleasures?

"When I fast from meat today, do I do so because it's a rule, or to unite in solidarity with those without access to meats and food?" asks a Facebook friend, the sort of Christian I can only aspire to be.  "There are an estimated two million living in Syrian refugee camps, moms and dads who look for something, anything to feed their kids. Isaiah 58 makes very clear the kind of fasting preferred by God."

It can be hard to fast in a normal, American day, when friends are snacking and going out for burgers and pizzas.   It should make one think because many Americans have to, well, think about ways to not eat.

“Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.” 

So, not to keep hammering on the money thing, but right now I have a dollar in my wallet, as in: a single dollar bill.  Everything else is allocated to gas and other basic survival expenses (groceries, medicine and the sort).  Especially for Lent, but in my life in general these days, there is rarely "spare" money.  (That's a term that's always amused me, especially when panhandlers ask for "spare change," as though I carry some extra money around like a spare tire in a car.  "Oh, this?  It's extra money; I have no use for it."  But perhaps this is another posting, and I am getting sidetracked.)

My question is: what do I do with this dollar?  Part of me wants, as I buy aforementioned gas, to get a lottery ticket.  I've long since dispensed with hopes of any of these massive wins of hundreds of millions; a little payout for a small game with better odds would be helpful.  Just a few thousand dollars would make an immeasurable difference.
But the above always comes to mind.  No matter how much I think I "deserve" even a small win, no matter how deeply I pray God take pity on me, facts are facts and math is math.  The odds are deeply against me; I might as well give the dollar as "spare" money to the first deserving looking person I meet.

For that matter, why not formalize the donation?  Why don't I, as the basket goes by, simply drop the dollar at church?  If I want God's help, surely it can't hurt to do Him a good turn, can it?

Of course, I know that logic is both practically and theologically suspect.  If I want to give it to church or charity, I should do it because churches and charities need money, and I wish them to prosper.  I should do it because I think that dollar will function better in that place than in the lottery fund or at the bottom of a fast food cash register till.

Maybe I should just shove it in an envelope with any other small amounts I come across.  It's always good to save, and even in paltry amounts, money eventually adds up.  Will it add up quickly enough?  Is it more practical to "leverage" that dollar, as a financial adviser might say of a significantly (significantly) larger amount, and put it to use somewhere ... like as a lottery ticket?

And we return to question one ...

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Hello Again ...

I've mentioned before how I don't really understand how traffic on this blog will spike or not.  Often, it would make mysterious jumps for no reason, and other times (when I thought I had posted classic "click bait,") it would lie there like a dead fish. 

A few times, I have delved into the options offered by Google to show statistics on traffic, but never really got it.  For a while, it seemed, I was getting traffic from India.

But today, I drilled down into it again (after my last post generated a remarkable 38 hits -- not exactly Gizmodo or Upworthy traffic, but remarkable for me) and found the clicks are coming from Google, this site itself (I guess that means people typed in the address directly) and something called

So I went to see what it was, and it appears to be a personalizable (is that a word?) dashboard where you can have a series of sub-windows open to check your favorite sites.  Cool.

So thanks for clicking in.  Check out some of the really old posts while you're here; I do that myself occasionally, and am surprised at what I have forgotten.