Who we pretend to be . . .

It seems all my most recent posts come equipped with an italicized prologue/apology.  My writing schedule of late (see previous post) allows  only for penning randomized thoughts rather than focused diatribes. 

Fisch wrote to me a few months back, citing his concerns over a former classmate’s downward spiral due to World of Warcraft.  “Back in high school, Larry could have kicked major ass, dude.  Samurai sword in hand — you know he has five or six replicas from Highlander — he could have . . . have . . . I don’t know, vied with the rich and powerful.  Made a difference in the world.  Tried to conquer it, and crush all lacrosse-playing douche-bags beneath his thumbs.  Instead, he’s teaching Spanish at a local college and hosting Magic tournaments at the local comic shop every Friday.  It’s unhealthy, man.”  

Fisch by nature is an idealist — he also cares little for lacrosse or the brainless bullies the sport occasionally empowers.  His mother has planned his presidential campaign since his thirteenth birthday.  A mind for politics, law, and changing the world has little to no use for fantasy or the MMORPG scene.  Building digital characters and hunting pixelated loot has no worth since it carries no currency in the real world.  This may be true, but still I wonder about his ‘self-evident’ conclusions of WoW, not to mention our private fantasies and self-identity. . .  This is my reply:

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Summer Service Project

Over the past week, I had the fortunate opportunity to help my brothers with their Christian Service project.  Most schools require a two to three reflection upon completion, the standard boilerplate:  What did you do to advance Christian ideals in your community?  How did it make you feel?  Did your experience change your perception of others and God’s role in the world?  If so, how? Continue reading

Citizens of the World

The cards were inconspicuous enough.  Several small slips of yellow cardboard piled neatly at the end of our pew, silently asking for information.  “What are the respective ages of you and those family members attending this mass?” it read.   Behind us, Ms. Pat, our next-door neighbor whispers while the collection baskets circulate among the congregation.

“Better fill this thing out guys.  I usually forget this nonsense, but if they don’t meet their quota, they’ll cancel 7:30 mass.  You know what that means . . .” Continue reading

Like Ants Cursing the Rain

Hillside of a golf course

“So what exactly are you saying?” Dasad asked, stirring the wasabi.  “That Star Wars should be added to the New Testament?  Some sort of sequel to Revelation?”

Murph gurgled some imperceptible response from his miso soup, inciting a sudden fit of coughing and drooling.  Dasad sighed and returned his attention to the green lump dissolving in his soy sauce.  Murphey had invited Dasad over the house for pizza and games earlier that week.  Dasad had accepted the invitation but neglected the hour-old pizza already ripped to shreds by the fraternal horde, Murphey’s younger brothers and sisters.  Sensing some internal struggle between hunger and disgust within his friend, Murph had suggested carry-out at the local sushi place.  Lenten Fridays restricted most fast food without scales and fins — excluding Taco Bell whose mushy meat remains to this day a zoological enigma.  Carting their repast home, Murph had suggested some minor alterations to 2010’s Holy Week. Continue reading

A Question of Blasphemy

The automatic doors did not open immediately, but seemed to pause and consider the visitors waiting at the threshold first.  After several minutes, the glass panel shuddered and cracked, sliding slowly open.  Having been deemed worthy by the electric bouncer, Dasad and I rapidly passed into the Best Buy and past the greeter before the machine changed its mind.  Walking out of habit to the New Release stack, I pointed out a few titles but met with no reaction.  My reticent companion had kept to himself for much of the afternoon, which suggested some work-related problem, failed romance or indigestion.  Either way time would work out the truth.

“You know, Murph,” he said to me as I checked the price tag of a Ben Hur Blu-Ray, “so much of your religion seems situated around full heads of hair and long-flowing locks.  Did you ever think about that?” Continue reading

Lenten Woes

Oh, No Meat Fridays, how I have missed thee.  Another year, another forgotten Lenten promise.  Frankly, the exact date of my betrayal, my omissive gluttony, that first bite out of a ham sandwich followed by several days worth of Catholic guilt is something of a sport in the Murphey clan.  Sean has even taken out a pool on when I will stray (having already claimed week 3 and 5 for himself).

Lego Turkey DinnerUnlike New Year’s Resolution, Lenten appeals carry greater weight for me.  I mean if you happen to screw up, you may be visited with plague and lightning, fire and brimstone, Rosie O’Donnell and another season of the Bachelor — Heaven preserve us.   Father Time, the patron saint of New Year’ Resolutions is far less coercive.   He acts as more of a symbol anyway, one  who has been screwin’ with me for years, ever since I learned about movie ratings and the penalties for underage drinking. Continue reading

Silence

The lady orchestrating the morning’s events cracked the first joke, the loud and obnoxious type.  This was to be expected of Kevin’s Confirmation coordinator.  She would need to enervate children and sponsors alike from their  agnostic and mostly private social habits.  Her goal now was to inspire candidates and their sponsor to talk openly about their faith among strangers, people who like Pat and me possessed little desire to regurgitate age-old religion lessons from grammar school or weep blood.

Yet if that’s what it took to get us out of there by twelve, then so be it.  Frankly, I was feeling a little teary-eyed myself after the previous night’s combination basketball match and Nazi Zombie game-a-thon.  I yawned loudly, stirring lukewarm coffee while searching for our designated table, labeled Yellow with yellow marker.  On white paper too.  Wonderful.

Pat just rolled his eyes.  Our cousin Kathleen, his candidate, dragged him to their table across the room.  Kevin simply sat down and stared out at the snow falling outside the window, no doubt anxious to begin plowing when we returned home . . . if we returned home.  Mom had suggested the chance of snowfall the night before, but the flakes fell thick and fast, nearly covering the nearby lawns in seconds.  The roads alone still resisted the assault of ice, but as the temperatures continued to drop they too would be overwhelmed.  The aspect of bunking overnight at the kids’ elementary school with a crazed Confirmation teacher did not excite me in the least.  Still as far as Saturday night’s go, I’ve had worse.

Swarming around Ms. Rachel buzzed the hyper, overly-enthusiastic giggles of past year’s confirmants — three girls and two boys — all wearing brightly colored t-shirts which I learned later corresponded with the various table labels.  Team yellow was led by a relaxed kid in a sunshine polo, who introduced himself as Mark.  The other two kids likewise appeared bored but emotionally stable individuals, their personalities easily overshadowed by the last two girls who introduced themselves in song.

“Hi, my name is Crystal and I’m in love with God . . .”

10:00AM  Half-an-hour into the retreat and already I found myself clock-gazing.   Around the table we began introducing ourselves to the other candidates, mostly girls.  And their mothers.  I shoot Kevin a sympathetic grin but he ignores me.  I hear him murmuring Ford F150 and ‘sucky GMC plows’ and ignore him.  Pre-arranged questions in sealed envelopes are passed around as a means to break the ice.  The girls and their sponsors seemed hesitant to talk but nevertheless kind and down-to-earth.  Betty likes the beach.  Julie paints and runs track.  At an adjacent table, I caught Pat rolling his eyes.  Afterward he admitted that one of his neighbor’s wrote love songs to Jesus.

“I just didn’t know what to say to that . . .” he said.  “I just nodded and tried not to laugh.”

Of late, I treat most religious discussions with a fair bit of cynicism.  Though my religious faith remains unshaken, my faith in the religious wavers.  Most sermons — especially those outside mass — come off as fake and though not entirely dishonest, still very much lacking in honesty like a sales pitch for spray-on hair.  Too many people seem to have too many answers, flooding classrooms and auditoriums with words and not enough actions.  Singing songs and playing Bible games feels like ample carnival fair but cannot replace honest discussion.  Frankly, I’d be satisfied if Ms. Rachel removed the press-on nails, toned down her voice several decibels, and spoke simply, quietly: “This stuff makes sense to me.  These teachings have helped me become a better person.  Give me a few hours of your time and perhaps you’ll find something worthwhile as well.”

Instead we played games.  Name two gifts of the Holy Spirit.  What does the bishop carry with him during the ceremony?  Name two Sacraments of Initiation.

Admittedly it was interesting and fun to tease Kevin a bit.  Particularly around the girls at our table.  After announcing his favorite animal was a cheetah, there was only so much I could do.  Next Junior Youth Brigade herded Yellow and Purple tables into an adjacent room for a short video on Silence, why it’s so important, why we have so many distractions in our lives, and why does not God take up more of that time.  They threw candy at us beforehand to contrast with sudden and long silences dispersed throughout the program.  Stacks of paper were passed around for notes.  Yeah, right.

Outside the snow continued to fall, now covering the sidewalks and collecting lightly on the roadways.  Words flashed on the screen, much too fast for Kevin and his dyslexia to catch.  Pen in hand, we played tick-tack-toe until someone turns on the lights.

When we returned to our tables, I grabbed myself another cup of coffee while the second group including Pat and Kathleen left the room.  I gave them a hearty thumps-up as they shuffled outside.  Returning to our seats we began another Powerpoint presentation on faith and began discussing God as the whisper or God as the storm.  ‘How did you feel after watching the film?  Do we live our lives looking for the divine in silence or through iPods and television?’

Personally, I felt the conversation a little one-sided (In a large Irish Catholic family, silence are bad omens and often follow shattered porcelain or report cards.) not to mention a little condescending but shrugged it off with a few well-practiced answers from my Jesuit days.  No one wanted to discuss anything anyway.  These silent discussion about, well . . .  silence grew louder as conversations bubbled over into Christmas Lists, video games, and the snow ball fights.  By 11:30 we were all anxious to leave.  Even Ms. Rachel’s color-coded minions seemed a little less enthusiastic, abandoning the Powerpoint for their phones.  Tetris themes were heard over the intercom.  Pat returned from the media room and rolled his eyes for the twelfth time that morning.

As noon rolled around, we were quickly dismissed, eager to test my Explorer on the slippery slush of the highway.  The entire parking lot was an arctic tundra, cold, icy, beautiful.   I looked out at the falling snow, white fields and frosted trees, like an eraser in a cartoon expunging the scenery: blanketing all color, all grime, all noise.  It was probably the most religious experience I had all day.  Quickly, reverently and noisily we piled into the car and drove back home.  Laughing all the way.

Mom was making cookies.  It was snowing.  And Bing belted out the hits on the radio.  Life was good.